MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte should not use the "trust and confidence blanket" to protect Philippine Health Insurance (PhilHealth) officials from corruption allegations, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Wednesday, after a Senate investigation found irregularities on how the agency spent its funds.
The Senate earlier found that PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales approved several budget requests for "grossly overpriced" equipment allegedly needed to upgrade the insurance agency's computer systems.
"Whether it is P1 billion or P15 billion... the fact is there is corruption going on," Lacson told reporters in an online press conference.
"Dapat may drastic step talaga na gawin ang Malacañang. Hindi puwede ang trust and confidence na blanket," he said.
(Malacañang should really take a drastic step. They cannot use the trust and confidence blanket.)
Morales has said that he "assumed" the prices were correct since he was "not an IT expert."
But Lacson noted the PhilHealth chief repeatedly ignored the reports of Etrobal Laborte, a head executive assistant, about "discrepancies" in the procurement of IT equipment.
Millions of funds for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients were disbursed to non-COVID-19 health facilities like dialysis centers and maternity clinics, the senator also said.
"Hindi nga lang whiff ito e," Lacson said, referring to Duterte's promise that he would not tolerate even a "whiff" of corruption in government.
(This is not just a whiff.)
"Napaka-obvious. Agad-agad makakapag-conclude kayo na something is very wrong," he said.
(It is very obvious. You can easily conclude that something is very wrong.)
Lacson said the Palace should address the issue as the legislative branch "can only do so much."
"We can conduct hearings. We can let the public know ano nangyayari sa loob ng PhilHealth. We can just make recommendations," the senator said.
"Ano ang gagwin ng presidente? Kasi sarili niyang agency yun," he said.
(What will the President do? Because that is his own agency.)
"Gusto natin makita ano ba gagawin ng executive department tungkol dito... Gumawa naman sila ng paraan para hindi masayang yung binayad natin taon-taon," he said.
(We want to see what the executive department will do about this... They should do something to avoid wasting taxpayers' money annually.)
Duterte appointed Morales to the PhilHealth's helm in August 2019 after the discovery of a "ghost dialysis scam," where the agency pays for the dialysis treatment of patients who have already died.
Morales was tasked to weed out corruption in the state-run insurance agency, which receives the biggest subsidy among all government owned and controlled corporations.
"Kung 1 taon ka na diyan at nandiyan pa din 'yung corruption,
walang nangyayari," Lacson said.
(If you've been there for a year and corruption still exists, nothing is happening.)
"'Pag wala kang ginawa, either napakatanga mo kasi 1 taon ka na mini-mislead, naniniwala ka pa... [pero] mas masama kung coopted ka," he said.
(If you are not doing anything about it, either you're so stupid because you are being misled for a year and you still believe them... or worse, you've been coopted.)
"Wala ako makitang third possibility," he said.
(I can't think of a third possibility.)
Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go earlier said that Duterte continues to trust Morales even after an anti-fraud official resigned from PhilHealth citing widespread corruption in the agency.