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Lacson doubts allegations vs PhilHealth ‘mafia’

/ 05:30 AM August 16, 2019

Senator Panfilo Lacson delivers his privilege speech on Philhealth, July 29, 2019. PHOTO BY JOAN BONDOC

Officials of  Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) who have been tagged as members of a “mafia” that is behind irregularities in the state health insurer could not have lorded it over the agency if they could be suspended for mere misconduct, Sen. Ping Lacson said on Thursday.

Lacson raised this point as he doubted the accusations leveled against eight senior PhilHealth executives by two of their former superiors that they helped hospitals fleece the health insurance system of billions of pesos.

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‘Mindanao group’

He pointed out that while Dr. Roy Ferrer, a former PhilHealth president and CEO, and Dr. Roberto Salvador, a former board member, claimed that they had tried to expose the mafia, they were actually the ones sacked by President Duterte and not members of a phantom organization allegedly led by the “Mindanao group.”

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Salvador, resigned along with Ferrer following the Inquirer’s series of investigative reports on PhilHealth irregularities in June, identified the eight PhilHealth executives at a Senate hearing on Wednesday.

“[Salvador] said it’s a mafia which had influence. They supposedly control the upper echelon in [PhilHealth]. That’s his definition,” Lacson said in a radio interview.

“What influence does this group wield? They were sent to other assignments and were suspended. Where’s their influence if they were suspended one after the other? One of them was even suspended for a year and was again suspended. I cannot see the influence there,” he said.

Trivial cases

Lacson said Ferrer and Salvador should expound and present evidence in the next hearing about the control that the group supposedly exerted over the PhilHealth leadership.

“Without sounding biased, I will use as basis the fact that the President actually removed those who were claiming that there’s a mafia. We know that the President has the biggest source of information, right?” he said.

In fact, Lacson said, Ferrer and Salvador had admitted that the cases brought against the eight were just administrative cases, ranging from insubordination to grave misconduct.

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“It turned out … that the cases against them were trivial,” the senator said. “All were administrative cases not in connection with fraud. When you say mafia, it should have something to do with money. But it turned out that the administrative cases had nothing to do with [missing] money.”

The two former PhilHealth officials also claimed that the eight had refused to abide by the PhilHealth board’s order transferring them to other posts.

In his testimony, Salvador named the alleged mafia members as Khaliquzzaman Macabato, regional vice president (RVP) in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; lawyer Valerie Anne Hollero, assistant corporate secretary; Masiding Alonto Jr., RVP for Northern Mindanao; William Chavez, RVP for Central Visayas; and Paolo Johann  Perez, RVP for Mimaropa.

He also claimed the mafia included Dennis Adre, RVP for Davao; Jelbert Galicto, legal officer of Caraga; and Dr. Miriam Grace Pamonag, RVP for Central Mindanao.

Vehement denial

The eight vehemently denied the accusations as they unexpectedly appeared at the Senate hearing, taking Lacson and other senators who attended the inquiry by surprise.

Lacson said even Sen. Richard Gordon, who presided over the hearing as head of the Senate blue ribbon committee, did not expect that the alleged mafia members were already inside the hearing venue at the Senate’s Session Hall.

In a statement, the eight claimed Ferrer and Salvador were using them as “scapegoats to cover up for the incompetence of PhilHealth’s previous management.”

“For being consistent advocates of reform, we have been subjected to retribution,” they said.

As career executives, they said they had been opposing questionable policies implemented during Ferrer’s abbreviated tenure.

“In line with our commitment to ensure that the access to health care is continuously enjoyed by the Filipino people, our group has submitted position papers since 2010 detailing flawed policies and red flags which could be indicative of fraud,” the group said.

“Sadly, these warnings fell on deaf ears, leading to the sorry state PhilHealth finds itself in today,” it claimed.

The officials said they were “unduly harassed by those who have benefited from the acts we seek to halt.”

Ferrer’s ‘enemies’

President Duterte will not tolerate any irregularity in the government, according to presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.

In a press briefing on Thursday, Panelo denied claims that he and Mr. Duterte had discussed the alleged PhilHealth mafia, and that he did not understand it as a mafia or organized group.

He spoke of a meeting with PhilHealth officials, during which the supposed enemies of Ferrer were mentioned.

“I think [that] during the meeting with them, there was a mention of the enemies of Dr. Roy and the President mentioned, ‘I think you know them.’ I don’t even remember who they are, but I know Dr. Roy had enemies who used to be from UP (University of the Philippines), I don’t even know their names,” Panelo said. —REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS AND JULIE M. AURELIO

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TAGS: Panfilo Lacson, PhilHealth mafia, Philippine Health Insurance Corp.
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