A senator on Thursday rejected a House of Representatives proposal to give President Rodrigo. R. Duterte special powers to reorganize corruption-ridden Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).
In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said the President could reform the state insurance system without special powers.
“There is no use for emergency powers and we will oppose it in the Senate,” he said. “The President has vast powers under the Constitution and existing laws to reorganize and solve corruption at PhilHealth.”
Mr. Drilon said Mr. Duterte can file administrative and criminal cases against erring Philhealth officials, and suspend or transfer staff.
Party-list Rep. Michael T. Defensor, who heads the House committee on public accounts that’s separately probing the state insurance company, earlier said he was considering emergency powers for the President.
Mr. Drilon said Mr. Duterte could reorganize or abolish government-owned and controlled corporations through the Governance Council for GOCCs.
“The GCG as the governing body for government corporations must actively and decisively perform its mandate as a central advisory, monitoring and oversight body of PhilHealth,” he said.
The Senate committee has finished its probe of PhilHealth and has recommended that Health Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III, who is chairman of the state insurance company, be replaced.
The committee also pushed the filing of criminal charges against Mr. Duque and former PhilHealth chief Ricardo C. Morales for corruption.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque. Jr. welcomed the special power proposal but said it should be studied first.
“It’s most welcome if it’s really needed,” he said at an online briefing in Filipino.
The Senate committee had found gross overpricing of equipment bought by PhilHealth and favoritism in the release of so-called interim reimbursement mechanism funds.
The mechanism allowed the agency to grant advance payments to health institutions by up to three months during the pandemic, even if only P1 billion had been liquidated.
Former PhilHealth anti-fraud legal officer Thorsson Keith earlier told senators at a hearing the agency’s top officials had pocketed P15 billion through fraudulent programs.
He said the sum came from overpriced equipment the agency had bought, as well as from a program that gave financial aid to health facilities amid a coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Keith called PhilHealth executive committee officers in-house mafia members.
Mr. Duterte earlier vowed to “finish off” PhilHealth officials involved in irregularities at the agency.
He created a task force headed by the Department of Justice to investigate PhilHealth, including doing lifestyle checks and audits of its officials and employees.
The President also ordered the Office of the Special Assistant to the President Undersecretary Jesus Melchor Quitain to conduct a separate probe.
The PACC has said it had recommended the filing of charges against three dozen PhilHealth officials, which the Senate may adopt in its committee report. — Charmaine A. Tadalan