It’s time for Duque to go

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It’s time for Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to go. He has become a continuing embarrassment for President Rodrigo Duterte.

Although Malacañang says Duque still enjoys the trust and confidence of the President, public interest during these tempestuous times of dengue and Dengvaxia demands that the health secretary be free from the slightest insinuation of any anomaly, untrustworthiness and corruption. The nation’s public health care program will be stagnant if the credibility of the country’s symbol of public health care is under fire.

As of this writing, Duque has to contend with many serious issues.

First is the controversy involving the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), the government agency that processes the payment of medical insurance claims. Duque is the chairman of the governing board of PhilHealth.

Pursuant to an arrangement reached between PhilHealth and its accredited hospitals, pre-identified medical expenses incurred by PhilHealth members are first absorbed by the hospitals, which later pursue it as a monetary claim against PhilHealth.

For the past several years, however, the Commission on Audit (CoA) had been calling the attention of PhilHealth to the numerous claims for “upcased” diseases made by unscrupulous hospital officials throughout the country.

An “upcased” disease is one which is made to look more serious than it is, like when an ordinary cold is made to appear as pneumonia. That way, the hospital concerned can claim a higher sum of money from PhilHealth.

From all indications, PhilHealth ignored the warnings of the CoA and continued paying the anomalous claims. It appears that PhilHealth has been paying P154 billion worth of illegal claims since 2013.

Two former employees of the WellMed Dialysis Center, a dialysis facility accredited by PhilHealth, revealed that PhilHealth has been paying bogus claims to their dialysis center. Even after the whistle blowers reported the anomaly to the PhilHealth top management, it still renewed the accreditation of WellMed.

Next is the revelation made by Senator Panfilo Lacson that the Educational and Medical Development Corporation (EMDC), a firm owned by Duque and his siblings, leased its building at Dagupan City in Pangasinan to PhilHealth for the latter’s Ilocos regional office. The lease covers 2,051 square meters of office space at a rental rate of almost P530,000 monthly. A deposit of a little more than P1 million was supposedly paid in advance by PhilHealth.

EMDC was represented in the lease contract by Duque’s sister. PhilHealth Regional Vice President Rodolfo del Rosario signed on behalf of PhilHealth.

Lacson says a conflict of interest exists because Duque is a part owner of EMDC and is the board chairman of PhilHealth.

The law provides that a public official shall not, directly or indirectly, have any financial or material interest in any transaction requiring the approval of his office.

According to news reports, Duque owned almost 30 percent of the paid up capital of EMDC as of 2015.

Duque claims that he had already resigned as president and board director of EMDC when he became health secretary in 2017.

Truth to tell, resigning as president and board director of EMDC is not enough. Duque must also establish that he no longer has any investments in EMDC. If he remains an investor, then he still has a financial interest in EMDC, even if he is no longer its president or board director.

The latest issue concerns Lacson’s recent accusation that another company owned by Duque’s family was able to obtain contracts to provide the DoH with medical supplies in 2016 and 2017. Lacson tags this as another instance of conflict of interest.

Duque also denies this accusation and insists that he has long divested himself of investments in that corporation.

Lately, there are calls for the use of the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine to fight the onslaught of dengue in the provinces. Duque has not commented on the proposal.

When the nation faces an outbreak of a dreaded disease like dengue, the people need a health secretary who is credible. Duque does not meet that standard.

If Duque cares for the success of the Duterte administration, he should submit his irrevocable resignation immediately, whether or not he enjoys the trust and confidence of the President.

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