Senators are calling for an investigation into the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) after news of the resignation of three high ranking officials of the state health insurer resigned over ‘widespread corruption’ leaked Thursday night.

“The high degree of corruption within PhilHealth must be stopped. It has reached a level akin to a state of emergency,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said.

“The administration cannot just sweep it in under the rug. This should be immediately investigated,” he stressed, adding, “the Senate should prioritize the investigation when it resumes session next week.”

Drilon was reacting to published reports that at least three executives of PhilHealth, including the agency’s Anti-Fraud Legal Officer Thorrsson Montes Keith, have resigned due to the widespread corruption issues within the agency.

The resignations happened after a reported “shouting match” among PhilHealth officials during their online meeting with other Cabinet officials.

Keith said in his resignation letter that he “opposed the mandatory payment of PhilHealth contribution by overseas Filipino workers to which I have stated that it is unconstitutional or not part of the UHC [Universal Health Care] Law. It is against my personal values to let the OFWs pay for the spillage of PhilHealth.”

“I believe there is a widespread corruption in PhilHealth,” Keith wrote.

The resignation letter of PhilHealth’s Anti-Fraud Legal Officer Thorrsson Montes Keith

“Whatever their issues in PhilHealth are, we must protect the funds of PhilHealth to the tune of P221 billion both from corruption and disarray in the agency,” Drilon stressed.

“It is not every day that we see key officials resigning from their posts one after the other. We will get to the bottom of this. We are watching you, PhilHealth,” he added.

“Our health sector is crumbling and these controversies made things even worse. This is too much. We are in a pandemic where people are getting infected, over 2,000 have died, over five million Filipino families are starving, five million lost their jobs, and our economy is on the verge of recession. And yet, here we have PhilHealth in total disarray today because of corruption,” Drilon said.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, for his part, said he is drafting a resolution calling for a Senate Committee of the Whole inquiry into the matter. He added that he had a conversation with Senate President Tito Sotto who expressed to him that the inquiry will be “one of the Senate’s top agenda after our session resumes on Monday.”

Lacson added that “such corruption occurred amid the COVID-19 crisis makes it more disgusting and abominable.”

“Nakakasuya na sobra. Needless to say, there is urgency that the Senate has to act on the matter immediately, as part of its oversight mandate, having passed the Universal Health Law,” he said in a statement.

“Unabated corruption and mismanagement of PhilHealth funds has been a topic of discussion among Senate President Vicente Sotto III and me, along with some senators from the majority bloc, for quite some time now,” Lacson said.

“But the reported shouting match in a recent virtual conference between the PhilHealth president and some board members involving almost P1 billion worth of questionable transactions, including a total overprice of P98 million – if true – says it all,” he added.

Senator Kiko Pangilinan said Keith’s resignation exposes not just the “widespread corruption” in the government agency central to addressing the COVID crisis, but also the unacceptable government negligence and abuse of its people especially in these trying times.

“Sabi nila ang tunay na pagkatao ng bawat isa ay lumalabas sa panahon ng krisis at kalamidad. Marahil ganun din sa tunay na anyo ng isang pamahalaan o pamumuno. Yung pagnanakaw at pangungurakot sa PhilHealth, ang ahensya ng pamahalaan na sentro sa ating healthcare system, sa gitna ng pinakamatinding krisis sa kalusugan sa kasaysayan ng bansa ay indikasyon ng kawalan ng pagpapahalaga at malaking kapabayaan at pagmamalabis ng Administrasyong Duterte na dapat ay pinoprotektahan at pinaglilingkuran nang tapat ang taumbayan,” Pangilinan said in a statement.

Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara said the Commission on Audit (COA) needs to conduct a special audit on the state health insurer to determine its financial status.

He said Philhealth’s funds are “so precious even more so during the time of Covid-19.”

“Reports are that the three (3) who resigned are idealistic former military officers who were not happy with what was being done,” the Angara stressed in a text message to reporters.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte has “authorized” Undersecretary Jose Melchor Quitain, head of the Office of the Special Assistant to the President, to conduct an investigation into the agency.

“We enjoined all parties, including Keith, to fully cooperate with Undersecretary Quitain so we can get to the truth,” Roque said.

Quitain presided over the controversial virtual meeting that PhilHealth had with some Cabinet officials.

During a Senate hearing in May, Morales was questioned over PhilHealth’s testing package for Covid-19 costing P8,150 which senators alleged as “overpriced”.   Two weeks later, the agency released a new Covid-19 testing package that only costs P3,409.

Morales denied any anomalies raised in Keith’s resignation letter

“’Yung accusations niya are unfounded, malicious, and misdirected, so walang basehan lahat ng kanyang mga alegasyon. I categorically deny that,” Morales said.

Morales stressed that there’s no massive corruption in the agency even challenging Keith to “come up with the evidence and file the case.”  (Rommel F. Lopez)