Duque wants to clear name as Senate recommends charges over alleged PhilHealth corruption

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 02 2020 02:28 PM

DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III exits the venue after the National Task Force (NTF) Coordinated Operation to Defeat Epidemic (C.O.D.E.) team visit and the “Mask Para sa Masa” program launch at the Don Alejandro Roces Science High School in Quezon City on August 29, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Wednesday insisted innocence as the Senate recommended the filing of malversation and graft charges against him and other officials over alleged corruption at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth).

In a report released Tuesday, the Senate Committee of the Whole said Duque was liable and should be charged criminally for "improper and illegal implementation" of the controversial interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM) of PhilHealth and for allegedly violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, alongside officials of the insurance body.

Also among those recommended charged was just resigned PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales. 

The IRM is a system of early fund disbursements to hospitals in case of unforeseen calamities. The Senate investigation found alleged irregularities in the release of IRM funds earlier this year, as dialysis centers were among big recipients, instead of the intended COVID-19 hospitals.

“If the findings are designed to remove me, let it be said that I have a constitutional duty to do my job unless the President says otherwise. If my service is no longer needed, I will go but I will clear the name of my father first because I have not caused any injury to the government and to the Filipinos,” Duque said in a statement.

He also said that he had nothing to do with PhilHealth Board Resolution No. 2515 dated March 31, 2020, which was supposed to be the basis of a PhilHealth Circular on the IRM that was published a week ahead. 

Duque, who chairs the PhilHealth board, said he has only been doing his work.

“These are not normal times and it is not easy for me to just accept all the blows hurled at me. I attended the Senate hearing to cooperate with the Senate in ascertaining the truth. I am disappointed though that the Senate has recommended the filing of charges against me,” he said.

Despite this, he said he is confident that the Senate would be just and fair.

Senators earlier demanded his resignation over what they described as the health chief's lapses in the COVID-19 response. The country has seen one of the world's longest lockdowns, but is now the top Southeast Asian nation in terms of infections, with over 224,000 cases. 

While health groups and legislators have expressed dissatisfaction with Duque’s performance, Malacañang on Wednesday said Duque still has the trust of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said that while the President trusts Duque, they will also be waiting for the recommendation of a multi-agency task force led by the Department of Justice investigating anomalies at PhilHealth.