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FIRING LINE: PhilHealth: No end in sighs

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

And just like that, the congressional investigation into anomalies at PhilHealth has ended.

Over three marathon hearings, testimonies by former PhilHealth insiders uncovered decades of fraudulent schemes engineered or tolerated by the state insurer’s top executives, administration after administration, that looted government coffers of billions.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III vowed to transmit the Senate’s investigation report to the Department of Justice. However, it also leaves a bitter taste on the palate that the National Bureau of Investigation and the Commission on Audit refused to supply senators the documents pertinent to its investigation, as pointed out by Sen. Miguel Zubiri.

Let’s hope Sen. Panfilo Lacson is right in saying that the committee report would contain prima facie evidence enough to pin down PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales, Senior Vice President Renato Limsiaco Jr., and other scheming officers for malversation of public funds and property.

Surprisingly, these main targets of the anti-corruption probe, along with SVP and Information Chief Jovita Aragon, got a free pass from Ombudsman Samuel Martires when he meted out suspensions against only 13 PhilHealth officers and executives.

Even more insulting is that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III still sings the tune that government “has zero-tolerance for corruption”, holding on to his claim that PhilHealth never lost P150 billion to fraud and scheming by its officials.

But as the current chairman of PhilHealth and having held various top posts in the government-controlled corporation since Gloria Arroyo’s time, Duque reeks of complicity with what’s been going on and going wrong at the firm. Does he get a free pass again? Sigh…

*         *         *

For what it’s worth, the probe has impacted the House leadership to support a review of the provision in the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act that imposes higher PhilHealth premiums on overseas Filipino workers.

The Blas Ople Center said various OFW groups are hoping this would lead to scrapping the entire provision in the UHC Act that imposes higher premiums from migrant workers pegged at three percent of annual salary to be increased by .5 percent every year until it reaches 5 percent.

The provision is offensive to OFWs, especially amid the trappings of this pandemic, which places their future abroad in jeopardy. “Unlike domestic workers, our OFWs will be shouldering both the employers’ and workers’ share, and this will eat up a huge chunk of their monthly remittances to their families,” the Center’s head, Susan Ople, points out.

Another questionable provision is the use of the Overseas Employment Certificate issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) as proof of collections of OFW premiums, thus ensuring that every OFW pays PhilHealth in advance even before his or her departure from the country.

This sheds light on another side of the dark workings of PhilHealth, which issued these implementing rules and regulations that are borderline illegal if not onerous and abusive to our citizens.

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SHORT BURSTS. For comments or reactions, email firingline@ymail.com or tweet @Side_View. Read current and past issues of this column at https://thephilbiznews.com

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