Senate panel wants criminal raps vs Abad, Garin over alleged illegal release of P10.6 bil. for health centers

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 25 2020 06:15 PM | Updated as of Aug 25 2020 08:30 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Tuesday recommended the filing of criminal charges against 2 former Cabinet secretaries, and officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) over their alleged involvement in an illegal disbursement of funds in 2015.

Former Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad, former Health Secretary and now Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, and several PhilHealth officials are liable for technical malversation after they allegedly used the insurance firm's P10.6-billion fund for senior citizens for other projects, according the panel's committee report.

"The loss of P10.6 billion that was spent on uncompleted projects for political campaign purposes stunted PhilHealth’s financial growth," the report said.

"By diverting the budget, then DOH Sec. Garin and company put in disrepute the integrity of the PhilHealth fund and derailed the march to efficient and reliable health insurance in this country," it added.

Garin headed the PhilHealth board then as the country's Health Secretary.

According to the report, the DBM, then headed by Abad, allegedly approved diverting the fund for senior citizens to the following projects:

  • Barangay health stations – P4.6 billion
  • School-based barangay health stations – P4.9 billion
  • Rural health units –     P392 million
  • National government hospitals – P125 million
  • Mobile dental vehicle – P648 million

Former Philhealth President and CEO Alexander S. Padilla, who agreed with the transfer of funds, should also face similar charges, according to the report.

"What the Committee noticed is the parallelism between Dengvaxia and the 2015 PhilHealth Senior Citizen Fund: both were intended to siphon funds from PhilHealth to finance the 2016 elections," the report reads.

Garin was earlier blamed for the alleged anomalous procurement of the Dengvaxia vaccine after she was seen meeting with its manufacturer shortly before the Philippine bought thousands of vials for the Aquino administration's anti-dengue campaign.

The report said that the DBM disbursed P9.39 billion for other projects of Garin on Dec. 29, the last working day in 2015.

"There are practically no health centers, as promised, to show," it said.

Of the 3,200 health centers that were supposed to be built, only 13 percent or 426 units were completed, the report said, citing data from the Commission on Audit's 2017 report.

In the second phase of the project, only 12 health centers were completed, it added.

Blood pressure monitors for the said clinics were also priced at P2,500 each, when it was only sold for P600, the committee report noted.

An entire health kit set was pegged at "P85,000 per piece when the price was just 25,000 per piece," it said.

"I have nothing against Garin personally, but as far as I am concerned, she has to answer for this," Sen. Richard Gordon, who chairs the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, said in an online press conference.

"It's not about personalities. Pero bakit mo kukunin at that time?" he said, noting that the funds were diverted a year before the 2016 presidential elections.

'BRAZEN LIE'

Abad denied the allegations, calling the panel's findings "a brazen lie."

"PhilHealth applied for funding for the payment of Senior Citizen premiums under the Unprogrammed Fund of GAA 2015. But this source had no funds, since no new or additional sources of revenues were available," Abad said in a text message to reporters.

"The funds came from savings from unused personnel funds... The use of said savings was authorized under the 2015 GAA and was approved by the Office of the President," he said.

The former Budget chief underscored that his name was "never once mentioned in discussing the issues related to the case" because he had nothing to do with the reported anomalies in PhilHealth.

"I was never asked to attend a hearing on said issue, nor was I asked to submit a position paper to explain my side of the issues. That at least makes sense, because I am in no manner involved in this inquiry," he said.

PhilHealth Davao Region Vice President Dennis Adre also belied the findings of the committee report, saying they were "the good mafia."

"My group was never part of any corruption. In fact, we were the ones against it and the truth will bear us out," he told ABS-CBN News.

'MALICIOUSLY TIMED'

Abad said the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee report - which did not cover the results of the recent Senate investigation into the diversion into the alleged misuse of COVID-19 funds - was "maliciously timed."

"I can only conclude that the release of this report is maliciously timed to confuse the public and distract them from the real PhilHealth scandal," Abad said.

"Gordon should be investigating the current PhilHealth scam that reeks of anomaly and unabashed corruption, and which the proper parties should be strictly held accountable for--based of course on facts, and not on wild conjecture," he said.

Gordon challenged the executive department to act on the recommendations of his committee to police irregularities that are still hounding the health sector during the pandemic.

"I'm very confident as a lawyer that we can prosecute these people. Pag nakalusot pa yan, bulok na talaga ang sistema natin," the senator said.

The Senate has yet to release its committee report on the alleged overpricing of equipment for PhilHealth's planned modernization program.

Gordon said he would not recommend shutting down PhilHealth, saying the insurance firm is "needed" in the country.

"I am not going to say remove PhilHealth... but we should make sure it succeeds because everybody is affected," he said.