MANILA--Several senators on Tuesday assailed Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) president Ricardo Morales for not flagging items allegedly overpriced by the millions.
Several such items on the PhilHealth's IT budget was brought to Morales' attention, but he did not see anything irregular about it, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said in a Senate hearing.
"Hindi ba dapat nag-red flag ang antennae niyo diyan?" Sotto said, referring to the allegedly anomalous purchase of switches, laptops, and other gadgets last year.
(Wasn't that supposed to be a red flag?)
The Senate investigation found that PhilHealth wanted to buy 15 CISCO switches worth P4.81 million, even though the market price was only at P939,360.
Other allegedly overpriced items in the agency's IT budgets were laptops and software programs.
When asked about the "very expensive" estimates, Morales told senators he was "not an IT expert" so he "assumed" that the prices he signed off on were the "correct amount."
"It has been brought to my attention, but I did not make a conclusion to the information," the PhilHealth chief said.
" 'Yung mga pinipirmahan kong dokumento (The documents I signed) go through several processes . . . I assumed that everything was regular until I signed it."
Morales told senators he is now "bothered" about the inaccurate pricing of the goods he authorized to buy.
"I was expecting an answer na, 'Hindi puwede 'yan, sobrang mahal 'yan,'" Sotto said, as he questioned Morales' inaction over the issue.
(I was expecting your answer to be, 'It cannot be tolerated, that is too expensive.')
Sen. Pia Cayetano expressed disappointment with Morales' actions over the allegedly "serious overpricing" at the agency, noting that the former military general was appointed to the state-run health insurance agency last year to rid it of corruption.
"Nilagay kayo ni President diyan (The President appointed you there) to spot corrupt practices. Overpricing is one of those," Cayetano said.
" 'Yung pinasok ninyong institution sinabi na sa inyo na mag-ingat ka diyan, madami diyang kalokohan . . . Hindi niyo ba na-resolve na baka may overpricing dito? Wala ho ba kayong sense na that looks suspicious?"
(When you entered the institution, you were warned to take precaution, because there are lot of anomalies... Did you not resolve that maybe there is overpricing? Did you not sense that that looks suspicious?)
Sen. Joel Villanueva said PhilHealth officials were "evasive" in answering questions during the Senate hearing.
"Mukha pong may tinatago sa hindi nila pagbigay ng maayos at klarong sagot sa mga tanong tungkol sa detalye ng P750 million na ICT budget na pinapa-aprubahan sa Board, at ang implementasyon ng kanilang reimbursement mechanism," Villanueva said.
(It seems they were hiding something because they were not giving proper and clear answers to questions about the details of the P750 million ICT budget that the Board was being asked to approve.)
"Sa aming obserbasyon, malinaw na may interes na gustong isulong ang ibang PhilHealth employees," he added.
(Based on what we've seen and heard, some PhilHealth employees are clearly pushing for their own interests.)
Sen. Richard Gordon said PhilHealth should address the overpricing issue before the public's trust in government-run firms erode.
"Bihira ang rotation [ng PhilHealth officials] kaya tingnan mo ang nangayari, ang laki ng overpricing at ng overpayment," Gordon said, noting that several officials may have already mounted syndicates within the organization.
(PhilHealth officials are rarely rotated that is why these gross overpricing and overpayments happen.)
"Mawawalan ng kumpiyansa ang tao sa gobyerno kung hindi aayusin yan."
(The public will lose its trust in the government if they will not fix this.)
Morales earlier told senators that he has yet to fire an official tagged in alleged corruption schemes that led to leakage in the PhilHealth fund worth billions.
The Senate is expected to hold another hearing on alleged irregularities in the state-run insurance firm as lawmakers look to amend the law that created the PhilHealth to solve irregularities in the agency.