MANILA -- Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has "moral liability" over 5 million health cards that were allegedly used to boost the 2004 election campaign of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, even if he was cleared by the Office of the Ombudsman, Sen. Grace Poe said Thursday.
Poe said whistleblowers had said Duque, then CEO of state medical insurer PhilHealth, allegedly ordered regional vice presidents to distribute the health cards to counter the 5-million lead of her late father, then presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr., in pre-election surveys.
The state-run corporation started incurring losses in 2004 due to its failure to pay hospital services given to the health card holders, said Poe, quoting Dennis Adre, PhilHealth Regional Vice President in Davao City, who testified in a Senate inquiry earlier this week.
"Maybe he has no legal liability, but he has a moral liability. He knew very well that that wasn’t right," the senator told ANC.
"The courts found him innocent of that deed, but whistleblowers themselves said that began the ruin of PhilHealth and now, we’re still suffering from that: the type of organization that he allowed in PhilHealth to thrive," she said.
PhilHealth officials who opposed the health card program dubbed "Plan 5M" were reprimanded or transferred to unfavorable posts, Poe said.
"Plan 5M" was disregarded as basis in an impeachment complaint against Arroyo and Duque was cleared of corruption in an investigation by former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, Malacañang said Wednesday.
Duque served as health secretary under Arroyo from 2005 to 2010 and again under President Rodrigo Duterte since 2017. He is also currently chairman of the board of PhilHealth, which is fighting allegations of corruption.
Whistleblowers in a recently concluded Senate inquiry had accused PhilHealth officials of pocketing P15 billion from public funds, and approving overpriced projects and fund releases to supposedly favored hospitals.
Duque is "liable by command responsibility," said Poe.
"He should really step up and find somebody who can probably clean it up or he himself should investigate, and he has not done so," the senator said.
"It’s hard to believe that he doesn’t know anything that’s going on around when it comes to corruption... If he didn’t know about it, then that just points to the fact that he’s really incompetent or negligent," she said.
Poe also found PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales' performance "really lacking."
"If the marching order of the President was for whoever will lead PhilHealth to get rid of corruption, I think Mr. Morales has failed miserably," she said.
"We’re not asking for sweeping changes immediately. But if we’ve seen some effort on their part to actually do something abut it, I think that that would’ve been enough at this point."
The senator said there should be an audit into PhilHealth and "an overhaul of the board members as well as the top leadership."
A proposal to privatize PhilHealth "is something we can probably explore," she said.
"I think that the private sector has done better in managing businesses," Poe reasoned.