Lacson sees conflict in Duque firm building lease to PhilHealth
MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson on Wednesday lashed out at Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, calling him a “hypocrite” for projecting an “unblemished” record as a public official with no conflict of interest despite his family’s business transaction with Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).
Lacson cited the Duque family-owned company’s contract to lease their building in Dagupan City, Pangasinan province, to house PhilHealth’s Ilocos regional office, which had processed some of the fraudulent claims paid by the state insurer.
As health secretary, Duque serves as ex-officio chair of PhilHealth, an agency attached to the Department of Health.
“If this is not conflict of interest, I don’t know what is,” Lacson said at the Kapihan sa Senado news forum. “It’s irritating when a government official, despite knowing that he is wrong, is projecting that he has an unblemished record for 35 years. Now look, he’s being hypocrite.”
Duque has distanced himself from the corruption controversy hounding PhilHealth, saying “integrity” was his “core principle.”
The senator also cited Duque’s involvement in the questionable distribution of PhilHealth cards with a picture of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when she campaigned for election in 2004 using more than P500 million in overseas workers’ funds.
Duque has said that allegation of wrongdoing has been rejected by both the Ombudsman and the Supreme Court.
Siblings in board
Official documents obtained by the Inquirer showed that as of 2015, Duque had 7,691 shares amounting to P7.7 million in the family-owned Educational and Medical Development Corp. (EMDC), which had a paid-up capital of P26.3 million.
Besides Duque, the company directors were his siblings Salvador Duque, Gonzalo Duque, Cesar Duque, Nieva D. Salva, Grace D. Dizon, Luz D. Hammershamb and Cristina D. Santos.
Hammershamb, Duque’s sister, represented the company in the lease agreement signed by PhilHealth regional vice president Rodolfo del Rosario.
PhilHealth leased the 2,051-square-meter office space for P529,261.20 a month and paid P1.1 million in deposit.
The Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2018, lease may be subjected to “reexecution under the multiyear obligational authority agreement between the parties.”
The lease contract did not show the date it was signed, but it was notarized only on May 28 this year.
Section 7 of Republic Act No. 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, states that “public officials and employees shall not, directly or indirectly, have any financial or material interest in any transaction requiring the approval of their office.”
It said conflict of interest “arises when a public official or employee is a member of a board, an officer, or a substantial stockholder of a private corporation or owner or has a substantial interest in a business, and the interest of such corporation or business, or his rights or duties therein, may be opposed to or affected by the faithful performance of official duty.”
Resigned before appointment
Duque has said, however, that there was no conflict of interest in the lease contract as he had resigned as president and board member of EMDC when President Duterte appointed him to the Cabinet in October 2017.
“The contract of lease was entered into and signed in 2017 by the corporation’s EVP, followed by the incoming president in 2018 and 2019 contracts,” Duque earlier told the Inquirer in a text message.
He added that he was informed that the contract “will no longer be renewed after it expires on Dec. 31, 2019,” because the building would be used for classrooms of a school also owned by their family.
Lacson has been pressing the administration to include Duque in the investigation of the PhilHealth scam.
Probe of ‘ghost’ claims
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has said Duque may be included in the criminal investigation of the “ghost” claims paid by PhilHealth.
Guevarra on Tuesday said the National Bureau of Investigation’s probe will cover the years when PhilHealth reimbursed hospitals and clinics for suspected bogus medical treatments.
The probe will include “the actions of every officer or employee of PhilHealth who had knowledge, or ought to have knowledge, of any irregular payments by PhilHealth,” Guevarra said.
Lacson has questioned why Duque, as chair of the PhilHealth board, did not join the six officials of the state health insurer who resigned amid the investigation.
A courtesy resignation is “not in any way an admission of guilt. It only shows self-respect and responsible leadership,” he said.
Guevarra earlier said the NBI would also investigate PhilHealth officials and personnel who may be involved in defrauding the government through bogus medical claims, estimated to have reached P154 billion.
Duque has belied the claim by PhilHealth insiders that P154 billion was lost to overpayments and fraud from 2013 to 2018. —With reports from Jovic Yee and Dona Z. Pazzibugan
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