Where is Health Secretary and Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) Board chair Francisco Duque III?

That is the question asked by Senator Risa Hontiveros during the upper chamber’s continuing probe on the corruption allegations against the state health insurance agency. The senator was wondering why Duque, who has been present on the board of PhilHealth for almost 20 years, has not been included in the investigation.

“Why is the Health Secretary unscathed in all this? Isa si Secretary Duque sa mga dapat magpaliwanag ng maigi ukol sa mga alegasyon ng korapsyon sa PhilHealth. In fact, he has been connected with PhilHealth in various capacities since 2001. Now on his second term as Chairperson of the Board of PhilHealth, he cannot deny responsibility for all irregularities inside such a vital health institution,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

Hontiveros noted that during Duque’s previous stints at the agency, a University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) report raised concerns about PhilHealth’s ‘excesses’ in administrative expenses that went beyond the legally allowable limit for years of 2004, 2008 and 2009, based on audited reports from the Commission on Audit (COA).

Duque was appointed PhilHealth President and CEO by then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from 2001 to 2005, and subsequently as the Chairman of the Board again from 2005 to 2009.

Hontiveros noted that it was during Duque’s time as PhilHealth president in 2004 when a P500 million fund from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) was allegedly used to ‘illegally’ purchase PhilHealth cards bearing then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s campaign slogan.

“If we want to clean up PhilHealth, we must go way back to 2001, when Secretary Duque was the PhilHealth President,” she said. “With his long history in the institution, Duque cannot feign ignorance of this systemic corruption.”

“If we want structural change, alugin natin. Expose the sacred cows. Expose the conflicts. Most of all, expose the backers,” she said.

“I am sick and tired of the fact that while people are dying from COVID and we have become the literal sick man of Asia, may mga patuloy na yumayaman at patuloy na di nananagot. Kung totoong bilyones and nawala, siguradong may protector ang mga ‘yan. Aalamin natin kung sino ang mga bumulsa at siguraduhin mabalik sa taumbayan ang pera nila,” she added.

The beleaguered agency is undergoing investigations by multiple government bodies due to allegations raised by its resigned anti-fraud officer Thorrsson Keith.

According to Keith, about P15 billion was pocketed by PhilHealth officials. This led to President Rodrigo Duterte ordering probes into the state insurance firm and the creation of a task force to look into PhilHealth’s finances and conduct lifestyle checks on its employees.

PhilHealth’s president, Ricardo Morales, was appointed by Duterte in June 2019.

Following fresh allegations of corruption and overpricing of contracts at PhilHealth, Palace spokesman Harry Roque said the president needed more evidence before taking action.

However, Senator Panfilo Lacson reminded the president on Aug. 6 of his warning to fire corrupt officials.

“Sabi niya noong araw, just a whiff of corruption ‘pag nakakaamoy ka lang, you’re fired. This is not just a whiff of corruption,” Lacson said. Rommel F. Lopez

READ: ‘Whiff or whisper’: Did Duterte keep his promise to fire officials for corruption?