The Senate hearing on PhilHealth’s alleged widespread corruption reveals the latest form of heist that overshadows past scandals in the government. This time, it is corruption in our health and social institutions, and it could be the grandest heist in Philippine history. Compared to previous controversies, it can go unnoticed for years.

Two years before the COVID-19 pandemic, PhilHealth in 2018 reported that it had a capital of P97 billion and released P121 billion paid claims with P49 billion pending. The state insurer received P132.5 billion from the hard-earned contributions of its 53.8 million members, including our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). But now, at the time when PhilHealth’s service is more crucial than ever, the Senate hearing reveals that it could go bankrupt by 2022.

Philippine Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) chief Greco Belgica said that PhilHealth has been releasing P3 billion payouts every week. PACC claims that these releases are “exposed to corruption” due poor IT system. As a solution, the state insurer framed a comprehensive ICT plan to solve the anomalies. The plan, however, is anomalous itself as the proposed budget behind the plan is overpriced by P734 million.

Resigned PhilHealth consultant and whistleblower Thorrsson Keith claims the existence of a “mafia” in the agency, involving P15 billion of fraud through the years. PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales dismissed the accusation. Keith’s complaint might be wrong and Morales could be right, in a sense that the money involved seems larger. Reports of claims for unnecessary dialysis and ophthalmology procedures cost P154 billion have been going around for years.

Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III, who also serves as incumbent PhilHealth chairman, has been at the agency’s helm since the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Intriguingly mum about the scandal, senators, who have been seeking Duque’s resignation due to poor COVID-19 response, want him grilled in the upcoming hearings.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who declared he will “run amok at the whiff of corruption,” has been defending both Duque and Morales. The president never mentioned the allegations of corruption in PhilHealth in his latest SONA. Nevertheless, we just hope that Duterte’s earlier declaration against corruption will hold true and something will transpire from the Senate and other government investigations directed toward the state insurer.

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