Whistleblowers‘ Act

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As I write this column, the whistleblowers that shocked the nation with their revelation that the dead in the Philippines are able to avail of dialysis package from the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) are behind bars at the Philippine National Police Precinct 4 in Novaliches, Quezon City. Edwin Roberto and Liezel Santos were former employees of WellMed Dialysis Center.

Edwin was assistant general manager, while Lizette was the PhilHealth liaison officer. They shocked the nation when they revealed that upon order of their bosses and owner of the dialysis clinic, they falsified forms to make it appear that patients who have since died continued to receive free dialysis treatments paid for by PhilHealth. The modus, according to them, would entail giving only one of the required three dialysis sessions per week, with the clinic allegedly collecting for all three. And after a patient had already died with the clinic’s knowledge, they would continue to make claims and be paid by PhilHealth for the thrice-weekly treatments.

When I first met them, I was initially hesitant to go public with their revelations for the obvious reason that it might damage the Duterte administration. I had to remind myself about the President’s resolve to rid his administration of corruption that led him to fire even his closest allies, particularly those who helped him in the campaign. Further, I had to remind myself of the many instances that I demanded from the PhilHealth officers to institute even the beginning of reforms to curb corruption in their agency. As the author of the Universal Health Care law, which I passed as early as September of 2017 and before I transferred to Malacañang, I knew that our efforts to provide our people with free medical care and medicines would come to naught unless PhilHealth, the law’s implementing body, is cleaned from top to bottom.

In fact, in the original version of my bill, I wanted to abolish PhilHealth and replace it with another entity with the same functions just to rid the agency of scalawags. I did not prevail because PhilHealth lobbied against it and the original author of the PhilHealth law, Sen. Ralph Recto, opposed it. In any case, in at least three instances, all incidental to the passage of our landmark bill into law, I repeatedly demanded of PhilHealth officials to implement even the beginning of reforms, but to no avail. This, plus the President’s own will to rid the government of corruption, led to my decision to go public with the testimonies of the whistleblowers.

I think I made the right decision. As a result of their revelation, the nation was sufficiently shocked and the ensuing condemnation probably prompted the President to fire the entire leadership of PhilHealth. This must have been a very difficult decision for the President given that its former president, Dr Roy Ferrer, is a native of Davao and is one of his personal physicians. Another director is a first cousin of presidential partner Honeylet Avanceña.

More importantly, the whistleblowers’ revelations may finally prompt much needed reforms in the state insurance body, including the appointment of new leaders with the specific mandate from the President to reform the institution.

But it has not been easy for the whistleblowers. As a result of their revelations, they have received death threats, have had to live in onerous conditions under the witness protection program (WPP), and they have had to put their lives at a standstill. One would think that considering that their exposes would probably lead to the effective implementation of one of the most important pieces of social legislation in the country, the Universal Health Care Law, that we would at least honor these types of whistleblowers. But no — in the Philippines, they are jailed.

The lesson learned from Edwin and Lizette’s experience is that Congress should pass as soon as possible the Whistleblowers’ Act. I authored this in the 17th Congress, but was unable to pass it into law. It would give whistleblowers, upon discretion of the Department of Justice, testimonial immunity and all the benefits of witnesses under the witness protection program. While Edwin and Lizette were under the WPP, they lost their benefits when the case was dismissed by the regional trial court and refiled in the municipal trial court. The Whistleblowers Act would grant them immunity regardless of where the case is pending and regardless of their culpability. Moreover, it would grant them immunity even without need for the courts to declare them as state witnesses.

Considering the value of the testimonies of whistleblowers in the cause of good governance, I urge Congress to pass this bill into law ASAP.

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