MANILA--Health Secretary Francisco Duque III cannot remain silent and "feign ignorance" of allegations of massive corruption at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) where he has occupied top-level positions in nearly 2 decades, opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said Tuesday.
The senator wants to nail the "backer" of a supposed "mafia" behind anomalies at the state-run health insurance firm, which allegedly lost some P15 billion to corrupt officials.
Hontiveros noted that only Duque had "institutional memory of the leadership" at PhilHealth, having sat or headed its board or served as president since 2001.
"Why is the health secretary unscathed in all of this gayong since 2001, Secretary Duque has always had some connection with PhilHealth?" she asked, as senators resumed their inquiry into corruption allegations in the agency.
"Gusto kong malaman hanggang saan ang involvement ni Secretary Duque."
Duque "cannot reign ignorance" of alleged corruption in the agency since former PhilHealth president Roy Ferrer had supposedly informed him of a "mafia" there, said Hontiveros.
"Dapat hindi tahimik si Secretary Duque rito," she added, noting that the health secretary had also attended 15 out of 18 board meetings last year.
Allegations of a systematic corruption of billions of pesos in PhilHealth funds would not have been possible without the presence of a "mafia" backed by powerful individuals within the agency, she said.
Hontiveros asked witnesses to validate a list of officials tagged by former board member Roberto Salvador in the alleged PhilHealth "mafia" in a 2019 Senate hearing.
Former anti-fraud legal officer Thorsson Montes Keith said he either didn't know or had not met any of the 8 officials mentioned by the senator from the list.
They were regional vice-presidents Paolo Johan Perez (Region IV-B), Khaliquzzaman Macabato (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), William Chavez (Region VII), Dennis Adre (Region XI), and Masidling Alonto Jr. (Region X).
The list also included Valerie Anne Hollero (assistant corporate secretary), Jelbert Galicto (CARAGA legal officer), and Miriam Grace Pamonag (former Region XII vice-president).
Current PhilHealth board member Alejandro Cabading, who had also pointed to an alleged "mafia," denied that any of them were involved.
"They are the good guys around," he said in response to Hontiveros.
"Let's get to the bottom of this. If we want structural change, alugin natin. Expose the sacred cows. Expose the conflicts. Most of all, expose the backers," said the senator, who also sat at the PhilHealth board for 11 months during the Aquino administration.
"Personally I’m sick and tired as I am of having to correct fake news from four years ago linking me to PhilHealth irregularities," she said.
"I’m even more sick and tired of the fact that in the middle of the largest health crisis ever to hit our country, nobody is being held accountable for the largest amount of allegedly corrupted funds in PhilHealth's history."