PhilHealth ‘mafia’ exposed

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Seven members of an alleged mafia behind the irregularities in state-owned Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) who exerted vast influence that was enough to force the ousting of several of the agency’s heads and taking virtual control of the activities of the agency were named during a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing yesterday.

The existence of the mafia and the power it wields pose more threats to the implementation of the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law that the corruption-plagued agency will administer.

Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go said the state health insurance provider should be free of corrupt practices and its financial records cleaned up in preparation for next year’s implementation of the UHC.

The funding requirement for UHC will be around P250 billion, which can’t be left to a graft-ridden agency.

Resigned PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Roy Ferrer exposed the existence of the alleged mafia.

It was PhilHealth board member Roberto Salvador Jr. who exposed the identities of the members of the syndicate after interpellation from Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon.

The mafia was part of the so-called “Mindanao group,” which is composed mostly of regional PhilHealth vice presidents who have served their posts from six to more than 20 years.

They are regional vice president (RVP) in Region IV-B Paolo Johan Perez, RVP in ARMM Khaliquzzaman Macabato, RVP in Region XII Dennis Adre, RVP in Region X Masidling Alonto Jr., RVP in CARAGA Jelbert Galicto, RVP in Region VII William Chavez and Assistant Corporate Secretary Atty. Valerie Anne Hollero.

The mafia members were incidentally present in the deliberations.

Information ‘owed’ to public

Drilon forced Ferrer and Salvador to pinpoint the syndicate members as they “owe the public” this information.

Salvador said they defined mafia as “a closed group in a particular field having controllable influence.”

Ferrer clarified that the term mafia came up after former Antipolo Rep. Romeo Acop coined it during a House hearing.

This group was being protected and Ferrer was even given a message that he will “suffer the same fate” as former PhilHealth presidents Paulyn Ubial and Celestina de la Serna.

The seven PhilHealth officials allegedly “resist rotation” of assignments and the PhilHealth board knew of the setup as this was considered as an “open secret.”

Salvador added that the President promised them that members of the group will be removed from their posts.

Sen. Richard Gordon, who chairs the powerful Blue Ribbon Committee, was even informed that one of the mafia members held a birthday party inside the office of the PhilHealth official that featured a taxi dancer.

For their defense, the seven members asserted that they even helped in the probes and reported fraudulent claims during the Senate hearings.

They said they were charged and slapped with “absurd cases” and they were being nitpicked by Ferrer.

“There’s no fraudulent cases filed against us, so it’s very unfair that we’re labeled as mafia, we’re labeled as corrupt,” Hollero added.

With Hollero’s stand, Senator Panfilo Lacson also asked further details on the fraud that was initiated by the so-called mafia.

“In line with our commitment to ensure that the access to healthcare is continuously enjoyed by the Filipino people, our group has submitted position papers since 2010 detailing flawed policies and red flags which could be indicative of fraud,” the group claimed.

Clean slate needed

“I have utmost trust in the leadership of PhilHealth headed by retired army general Ricardo “Dick” Morales and its new board members,” Go added.

Go, likewise, urged the Department of Justice to refile a case against WellMed, which provides dialysis and other medical services to PhilHealth members.

“The case should be refiled in the appropriate court and strengthened to ensure that there will be someone that will be penalized,” the neophyte senator said during his opening statement.

Last 5 August, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 219 junked 17 counts of complex crime of estafa through falsification of public documents cases filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and PhilHealth against WellMed Dialysis and Laboratory Center co-owner Dr. Bryan Sy.

“The anomalies in PhilHealth should not continue. Like what the President said, we will not permit, not even a whiff of corruption. There should be someone that will be accountable,” he averred.

Go pointed out the issues involving PhilHealth were talked about since 2015 but the illegal acts remain prevalent until now.

Settle your debts

Go, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, and Sen. Gordon will jointly lead the inquiry on PhilHealth.

Among issues Go plans to ask is the alleged failure of PhilHealth to settle its financial obligations to private hospitals.

Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center president Dr. James Dy sent a letter to PhilHealth branch manager Henry Almanon of PRO NCR North branch in Caloocan City dated 17 July complaining that PhilHealth was not able to pay P204.6 million worth of medical services provided by the hospital to PhilHealth members from April to June 2019.

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