MANILA — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Thursday said the whistleblower who called him the "godfather" in alleged corrupt practices at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) is not trustworthy.
This, even as he welcomed the recently concluded Senate inquiry into claims of anomalies at the agency, which found irregularities and an influential "mafia" behind deeply entrenched corruption at the state health insurer.
“I welcome the Senate inquiry as a way of clearing my name. My public service record is an open book. If there is a single thread of conclusive evidence of my involvement on any and all issues, then let the axe fall,” Duque said in a statement.
Duque is currently PhilHealth chair and served as its president from 2001 to 2005, Chairman of the Board from 2005 to 2009, and Board Member in 2016.
Corruption investigations at the agency came as he parried resignation calls over supposed lapses in his handling of the COVID-19 crisis. The Philippines is now the top Southeast Asian country in terms of infection numbers despite having one of the world's longest lockdowns.
“It pains me to be called ‘godfather’ before the Senate by a very polluted source. It hurts my family to be dragged in all sorts of innuendoes just because I have been a former PhilHealth President, Chairman, Board Member and now, again its Chairman,” he added.
Former anti-fraud officer Thorrsson Montes Keith, who spoke of the so-called “mafia” within the PhilHealth, has said that Duque has institutional knowledge and had approved “almost all of the members of the mafia.”
Duque, in his statement, said his years in the public sector have been guided by accountability and transparency.
“The whole institution of PhilHealth is composed of decent and competent public servants. The rotten eggs are not the be all of the institution. I thank the President and Secretary of Justice in pursuing a clean-up,” he said.
Duque also suggested that Congress institute a fixed-term President and CEO for the PhilHealth “because reforms are long term.”
“I also recommend that a study be made on limiting the inclusion of Department Secretaries to ex-officio positions and the like,” he said.
“Following the advice of senators, in yesterday’s PhilHealth Regular Board Meeting, I am seeking for a more active participation of the Secretaries of other member agencies of the Board of Directors.”
Even before the PhilHealth controversy, Duque has received flak for the Department of Health’s role in the country’s COVID-response. Some senators and health groups have also called for his resignation.
Amid the corruption inquiries, PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales stepped down on President Rodrigo Duterte's advise, citing his medical condition. The former Army general is battling cancer.
The PhilHealth board has chosen executive vice president and chief operating officer Arnel De Jesus as officer-in-charge pending a new appointment. Like Morales, De Jesus had also skipped Senate hearings, citing heart ailments and diabetes.
A Senate panel on Tuesday released findings on its PhilHealth investigation, identifying alleged members of an influential “mafia” involved in corruption at the agency and recommending criminal charges against Cabinet members from the previous administration for alleged illegal fund disbursements in 2015.