When former PhilHealth chief Ricardo Morales was advised to step down from his post due to his medical condition—he was reportedly undergoing treatment for lymphoma—observers were one in saying the person who will take over the agency’s leadership will be facing a formidable task. PhilHealth has been hounded with allegations of corruption and fraud, including overpayments to hospitals and procurements of overpriced new equipment.
Last night, after meeting the core members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) in Malacañang, President Rodrigo Duterte announced Morales’ replacement as the new PhilHealth president and chief executive officer—former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) director Dante Gierran.
In the meeting, Gierran said he did not apply for the position, knowing the great effort it would require to tidy up the system over at PhilHealth. He said listening to the hearings conducted by both the Senate and the House of Representatives revealed the “sorry state” of the agency. He said he was “aghast” with the stories of “corruption here and there.”
But like a good soldier, he said, he is not one to back off from a mission. Gierran vowed to “restore the trust and confidence of our people to PhilHealth.” He said this should be “equivalent to restoring the trust and confidence to our government.”
Gaining back the public trust would entail implementing a major revamp and sending those involved in corrupt activities to jail. “Ang sabi ko sa kanya, the next two years will be devoted in the fight against corruption,” said Duterte during the meeting, repeating what he had earlier told Gierran. “Maghanap kayo ng mapakulong natin.”
The president also ordered Gierran to remove all the PhilHealth regional vice presidents “whether performing at par or in parity with the good ones.”
Who is Dante Gierran?
Gierran comes from the President’s hometown, Davao. According to a 2017 profile published by the Rotary Club of Manila, Gierran graduated with a degree in Accountancy at the Rizal Memorial Colleges in Davao City in 1978. He “earned a few units” in Business Administration at the University of Southern Philippines (USP) in 1987, also in Davao. He pursued a Law degree at the University of Mindanao and the International Harvardian University in 1993, both in Davao City.
The profile also touched on Gierran’s humble beginnings. He worked as a security guard, bill collector, security officer, and administrative officer at Tardal Security Guards Service from 1972 to 1979. He also worked as a part-time professor at the Agro-Industrial Foundation of the Philippines College and the International Harvardian University from 1984 to 1987. From 1979 to 1990, he worked as a credit investigator for Manilabank in Davao City.
The new PhilHealth Chief had a long stint with the NBI, starting out as a line agent from 1990 to 2003. He eventually served as executive officer at the NBI in Davao City and as training director at the NBI Academy/Training division, before being promoted as Acting Regional Director at NBI in Davao City from 2013-2016.
Gierran, a certified public accountant-lawyer, was the first NBI Director appointed by Duterte after he won the 2016 presidential elections. He was NBI director when the bureau launched an investigation into allegations of “ghost” dialysis treatments that a clinic in Quezon City allegedly charged PhilHealth for. The 65-year-old official stepped down in February for his mandatory retirement.
“A good man”
In a tweet, Senator Ping Lacson says Gierran is “a good man” and “I hope and I mean it—that PhilHealth will not be Dante’s Inferno.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra expressed confidence in the credentials of the new PhilHealth chief. “Former NBI director [Dante] Gierran’s legal and accounting background, his well-known investigative skills, administrative abilities, and fiscal prudence make him fit for the PhilHealth top position, and equip him well to pursue the cleaning process and reformation at Philhealth to their logical conclusion,” he says.
According to President Duterte, Sec. Guevarra is winding up the investigation of a task force formed to look into the allegations of corruption at PhilHealth.
Meanwhile, Senator Kiko Pangilinan expressed reservations on Gierran's appointment. “I have serious misgivings about the appointment given that we clear(ly) need a more holistic rather than a simplistic law enforcement approach to the cancer confronting PhilHealth in particular and the COVID[-19] health crisis in general,” Pangilinan points out.
Pangilinan also cites Gierran's "lack of experience in the field of public health that Malacañang chose to ignore. His predecessor too had no public health experience and that ended terribly for PhilHealth.”
Section 14 of Republic Act 11223 or Universal Health Care states that "the President must appoint a Filipino citizen who has at least seven years of experience in the field of public health, management, finance, and health economics or a combination of any of these expertise.”
In 2016, the former NBI director was linked by Edgar Matobato, a confessed killer and member of the infamous Davao Death Squad (DDS), to the killing of a suspected kidnapper in 2007. The kidnapper was said to have been taken from Sarangani Province and brought to Davao del Sur where he was eventually “fed to a crocodile.”
Gierran dismissed Matobato’s claim, saying he has been with the NBI for more than 26 years at the time and have conducted himself with honesty, objectivity and fairness. “Marahil po may hidden agenda ang testigo sa pagdawit sa name ko kasi maraming inggit po pagka-appoint sa akin bilang director ng NBI. Kilala ko naman si Matobato na witness pero never po na sinama ko siya sa aking mga trabaho dati sa Davao.”