Health secretary faces graft, plunder charges
MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III is facing graft and plunder charges in the Office of the Ombudsman over a lease agreement between a company owned by his family and Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).
With help from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), the parents of 10 schoolchildren who allegedly died after being given the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia in 2016 filed the complaint on Friday, accusing Duque of allowing his family’s Educational and Medical Development Corp. (EMDC) to lease three floors of its building in Dagupan City, Pangasinan province, to PhilHealth for the national health insurer’s regional office in Ilocos.
Duque is ex-officio chair of PhilHealth.
In a text message to the Inquirer, he said he had not yet received a copy of the complaint.
He said, however, that he was not surprised by the new charges filed against him by the PAO, given the “harassment cases” it had brought against him over the failed dengue immunization program for schoolchildren.
“I will squarely answer the unfounded accusations. I will not be distracted by this nuisance suit in my pursuit to properly and fully implement the universal health care law and ensure the prosecution of fraudulent PhilHealth claims,” Duque said.
Attached to the 13-page complaint were documents showing Duque was a stockholder in EMDC, as well as a copy of the lease contract for the Dagupan building.
The complainants accused Duque of benefiting from the “exorbitant” monthly rental of P529,261.20, as he owned shares in the family corporation when the lease contract was executed.
The contract was signed on May 28, 2018, but was effective from January to December of the same year.
Duque was appointed health secretary in November 2017.
EMDC’s general information sheet filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission showed that Duque took a leave as officer of the company, but still had 13,268 shares, equivalent to an eighth of the company’s total shares of stock.
“It can be easily deduced that respondent … has upheld his personal interest over the interest of the public,” the complainants said.
The complaint arose from Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s allegation on Wednesday of conflict of interest against Duque, disclosing PhilHealth’s lease on the Dagupan building owned by the health chief’s family at a news forum in the Senate.
The complainants said Lacson’s disclosure bolstered their claim that Duque had violated the graft and corruption law and the code of ethics for public servants.
They also pointed to Duque’s alleged “propensity” to use his position for the benefit of his friends and relatives, noting that Bryan Christopher Sy, owner of WellMed Dialysis Center in Quezon City, is his godson.
Sy and other directors of WellMed are facing charges for defrauding the government of more than P800,000 by collecting payments for fictitious dialysis treatments, using the names of patients who had already died.
PhilHealth has also withdrawn WellMed’s accreditation.
The scandal stemmed from a series of investigative reports published by the Inquirer in early June about corruption in PhilHealth.
Aside from graft and administrative charges, the complainants also accused Duque of plunder, but it was not clear in the complaint how the total amount from the rent could have exceeded the P50-million threshold for a plunder case.
The complainants also slammed Duque for allegedly failing to provide medical assistance to their children, who reportedly died after they were immunized with the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine.
Commenting on Lacson’s disclosure last week, Duque said he was not involved in EMDC’s dealings with PhilHealth.
He also said he had already resigned from the company. —With a report from Jovic Yee
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