'Absolute lie': Ex-budget chief Abad denies diverting PhilHealth funds

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 27 2020 11:41 AM

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MANILA - Former Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad on Thursday described as an "absolute lie" allegations that he had diverted some P10.6 billion in PhilHealth funds for senior citizens to other projects in 2015.

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon, earlier recommended the filing of technical malversation charges against Abad, former Health Secretary and now Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, and several PhilHealth officials.

Abad, however, said Gordon released an executive summary that was drafted in 2018 and was "never acted upon" by the Senate.

"This recycling of a report that was not acted upon by the Senate has really no value but getting to the substance of that report, that P10.6 billion diversion that he is claiming is not true," he told ANC.

Abad said the supposed fund for senior citizens was not included in the 2015 national budget.

The PhilHealth had applied for additional budget under unprogrammed funds, which were savings generated from the spending plan's miscellaneous personnel benefit fund, Abad said.

"At the time they applied for those funds, there was none so they couldn’t get any funding. So there was really no P10.6 billion fund in the first place," he said.

"It wasn’t even in the unprogrammed fund. Not anywhere else. Not in the budget or anywhere else. It had no appropriations whatsoever."

Abad added that he was "never called to a hearing on the issue."

"I was not even asked to submit a position paper. and then they come out with a report like this which concluded I should be charged with technical malversation and graft for diverting a fund that did not exist in the first place," he said.

"This is really a non-issue."

The former budget chief, meantime, said an oversight committee should be created to supervise PhilHealth's disbursement of funds.

"The law has to be reviewed so we can remove the discretion being given to PhilHealth officials because as you know, in the equation that defines corruption, discretion is a big factor," he said.

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee earlier also recommended the immediate removal of all PhilHealth regional vice presidents from their posts, and urged the executive department to subject all officials of the state-run insurance firm under "regular lifestyle checks."

The Senate is expected to released a separate report on its investigation into the alleged misuse of COVID-19 funds and the attempted overpricing of equipment for PhilHealth's modernization program.

The state insurance firm is facing fresh investigations over alleged corruption, prompting PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales and several officials to quit their post.