By Atty. Howie Calleja
Recently, I watched the world-renowned Broadway show-turned film, “Hamilton.” The tune I cannot get out of my head, as I read about the recent PhilHealth news, is “You’ll Be Back” by King George III. The delusional King believes that the people will return to him and that only he can protect them. We keep relying on leaders who play us for the fool by deflecting any blame. How can we continue to trust PhilHealth when there are no real reforms, only empty promises of eliminating corruption each time they are called out? We keep coming back, again and again, to the arms of the ones putting these corrupt officials in power, hoping that this time will be different. Will we listen to the tune of King George III, or will we finally demand change?
Fraud and corruption seem to be hallmarks of the PhilHealth culture year-to-year and yet, the controversies continue, seemingly worse every time. In 2012, fake PhilHealth receipts were issued to a company allowing them to get away with P114 million in premium payments. In 2015, fraudulent claims amounted to P2 billion. In 2019, PhilHealth was embroiled in allegations of corruption, due to reports of the loss of P154 billion through a multitude of fraudulent schemes, including making reimbursements for “ghost dialysis.” Morales was appointed by Duterte with the sole mission of eliminating corruption in the agency but, with the recent news, it’s obvious nothing has changed.
It seems this leadership refuses to trust the oath of doctors to do no harm. Last week, they provided concrete and medically-responsive suggestions on combatting the ongoing pandemic and were met with a rant. Meanwhile, the administration is willing to support Morales and his cronies, who have no medical background. The juxtaposition between the Hippocratic oath of doctors and the hypocritical oath of Duterte could not be clearer.
The promise of Duterte to stamp out even whiffs of corruption apparently comes with a selective sense of smell. Only those who are not his friends’ reek of the odor, while his appointees remain flawless. The statement from Malacañang that Morales will not be fired without a direct link to the anomalies, reveals a clear intent to weed out only the scapegoats.
Let us not forget that the Chairman of PhilHealth is Sec. Duque himself, and Morales was handpicked by the President to lead the agency. They can say they were unaware of the directives of their underlings, but doesn’t that make it worse? Should someone, who appears to be so blatantly ignorant and clueless, be put in charge of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation?
Proper implementation of the Universal Healthcare Act depends on the financial stability of PhilHealth. If our legislators truly believe in accessible and equitable healthcare of the Filipino, then they should not only seek out the root causes of corruption in the agency, but they should also review the operations and propose a new system that would ensure the funds will be managed efficiently in the future.
The corruption in a system that millions of Filipinos depend on truly reflects the state of our nation. When there is a need, there is money – and where there is money, there will be the desperate dogs, salivating for the first slice of the pie. How then does one combat such a systemic ill? Sticky fingers throughout the years of PhilHealth is not news, yet we act surprised every year. A revolving door of corrupt leadership cannot change the culture, we must look instead to fundamental and systemic changes. With the billions of pesos handled by the agency, why do we NOT have a constant audit? Truly, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly, and expecting a different outcome.
There is talk of PhilHealth going bankrupt next year, but even a cursory glance at the funds they’ve received: last year’s GAA; the supposed profits from various investments; and the contributions from members, PAGCOR, and PCSO, taken with the overpricing from things as simple as COVID testing payments, demonstrate a surplus of funds. Even the cost of the coronavirus payouts doesn’t add up to the claim that PhilHealth will go bankrupt. After only two weeks, we determined the cost of a testing kit was bloated and, thereafter, slashed the cost in half. Why is it only after someone looks at the cost, and publicly calls it out, that changes are made? A constant audit would ensure this, and a P734 million not contained in the original budget proposal for an IT system, would not be common occurrences.
Why can we not make simple changes that would surely have a long-lasting effect? In the words of Senator Miriam, ignorance can, indeed, be cured; but stupid is forever. Instead, we put a new face on it, and write it as a win, knowing the Filipino people need PhilHealth and will accept whatever small changes are made, in the hope that it’ll be better. Hamilton comes to mind, once again, “You’ll Be Back.”
We do not have endless funds – we are taking from the people. With the amount of jobs lost, the businesses forced to close, and the number of people who have felt the wrath of this virus, those funds are finite. Investigations by the Ombudsman, COA, and the CSC will only cost us more. Yes, we may be able to put (some) corrupt officials away, but that won’t stop corruption from reoccurring, or from draining more money from the people. But, no one thinks about that. Indeed, they think we can keep throwing money at the problem. After all, in their larcenous minds, there’s always more funds in the Philippines.