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As PhilHealth Woes Spark Worry, Corruption Probes Deepen

Tackling a long-standing problem.
by Joel Guinto
Aug 9, 2020
Photo/s: Website/PhilHealth

(UPDATE) The Senate will resume Tuesday its investigation on long-running allegations of corruption in state-run PhilHealth, the state of its finances under scrutiny as millions of Filipinos reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic see it as a financial lifeline in case they get sick.

President Rodrigo Duterte last week ordered an investigation on alleged corruption in PhilHealth with clear instructions: find the thieves. Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a long-time anti-graft crusader, said there should be a "moratorium on corruption" in the agency.

Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III said Monday the hearings would continue despite the absence of PhilHealth officials who called in sick.

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"It won't stop our inquiry and other witnesses and testimonies from coming out. It won't also stop the filing of charges  against erring officials of PhilHealth if warranted," Sotto told reporters. "I've said it before, when you hold a high public office, you are a servant of, and answerable to, the people. There is no privacy! If you cannot stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!"

As lawmakers prepare to dig deeper, here's what we know so far about the government-run health insurer:

What are the allegations?

Overpricing in procurementFor instance, Adobe Master Collection software was priced at P21 million compared to the approved cost of P168,000. Structured cabling cost P5 million from P500,000. Two sets of laptops were said to be worth P119.43 million.

Corruption allegations in PhilHealth are not new, several years back, an alleged racket was exposed wherein the dialysis bills of ghost patients were used to cash in claims.

How much money was lost?

Up to P15 billion, according to one whistleblower, Thorrson Montes Keith, PhilHealth's own anti-fraud official who has since resigned. Keith said overseas Filipino workers were unfairly charged the share of their employers in PhilHealth contributions on top of their own. He described it to senators as the "crime of the year."

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Are my PhilHealth contributions safe?

With increasing payouts due to the pandemic and decreasing contributions, operating losses could reach P90 billion this year and P140 billion in 2021  should the pandemic drag on, said its data protection officer Nerissa Santiago.  At this rate there will be "no more reserve funds" by the end of next year, she said.

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Santiago was asked by Sen. Franklin Drilon, if based on her statement, there would be no more PhilHealth by 2021, to which she replied: "Yes, sir."

PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales, asked about Santiago's statement, said the data officer was referring to the agency's "actuarial life," an accounting term that refers to lifespan. Santiago's statement was based on the assumption that no collections would come in, but "that is not going to happen," Morales said.

PhilHealth will only run out of money when the government does, he said.

Who is the current head of PhilHealth?

A retired army general Ricardo Morales, is the current president of PhilHealth. He sent word that he would not be at Tuesday's hearing because of ill health. Ridding PhilHealth of corruption has been Morales' priority. He told senators that based on records, 5,000 members were 130 years old.

In the Army, Morales was reported to have followed up with the then AFP Chief of Staff, Gen. Narciso Abaya, about corruption allegations against his comptroller, Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia. Garcia was eventually removed from his post and court-martialled.

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