‘Big elephant:’ Senators to quiz ‘very quiet’ Duque on PhilHealth mess

MANILA, Philippines — Senator Panfilo Lacson intends to quiz Health Secretary Francisco Duque III once the Senate resumes its investigation into the “unbridled corruption” in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

“The ‘big elephant’ was not in the room during the two Senate Committee of the Whole hearings on PhilHealth’s unbridled corruption,” Lacson said in a tweet on Thursday, referring to Duque, who serves as the chairperson of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) in an ex-officio capacity.

Asked to elaborate, Lacson told INQUIRER.net in a text message that he would ask the Health Secretary about his apparent silence amid fresh claims of corruption against the state-run insurance company.

“When he appears on Tuesday, I’ll ask him, being the incumbent ex-officio chairman of PhilHealth, who was present during the shouting match in their last board meeting that effectively triggered these new controversies,” he said.

He was referring to a meeting which was said to have escalated into a forum for heated exchanges over PhilHealth’s allegedly overpriced IT system and had led to several PhilHealth officials turning in resignation letters.

“Why [has he] been very quiet in spite of all the anomalies being openly discussed with so many unanswered questions involving highly questionable transactions by PhilHealth,” the senator said.

During the two previous Senate hearings into the alleged rampant corruption in PhilHealth, senators grilled PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales and his subordinates over the procurement of allegedly overpriced IT equipment; the “questionable” release of funds under the corporation’s Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM); and the alleged manipulation of the corporation’s financial status.

“I’ll ask him (Duque) what he intends to do or recommend to the President,” Lacson went on.

The Senate, constituted as the Committee of the Whole, is set to resume its investigation into the PhilHealth mess on August 18.

‘Institutional memory’

Senator Risa Hontiveros, likewise, questioned Duque’s silence amid controversies hounding the state insurer.

“H should face and answer us and our questions kasi sa lahat ng ito, ang tanong ko talaga: Nasaan si Secretary Duque? Bakit siya tahimik? [In all of this, my question is: Where is Secretary Duque? Why is he silent?]. He’s really the main official then and until now who should shed light on all of these repeated and serious allegations,” she said in an interview over CNN Philippines.

“He’s been on the board of PhilHealth or in the management of PhilHealth in some capacity…since 2001,” she added.

According to Hontiveros, the health chief “cannot feign ignorance.”

“Si Secretary Duque lang, sa dalawang dekadang ito, ang merong institutional memory about the goings on inside of PhilHealth. So hanggang saan ang involvement niya? Hanggang saan ang knowledge?” the opposition senator said.

(It is only Secretary Duque, in these two decades in PhilHealth, who has institutional memory about the goings-on inside of PhilHealth. So up to what extent is his involvement? Up to what extent is his knowledge?)

“Sa tingin ko talaga hindi siya dapat manatiling tahimik. He’s been called by the [Senate Committee of the Whole] and I really expect he would appear in order to explain,” she added.

(I believe he should no longer remain silent. He’s been called by the committee and I really expect he would appear in order to explain.)

Earlier, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also said that Duque “must appear” in the Senate’s PhilHealth investigation.