'Hire a good lawyer,' Sotto tells Duque as Senate recommends charges over PhilHealth mess

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 02 2020 07:51 PM

MANILA - Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Wednesday advised Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to "hire a good lawyer," saying it was "impossible" for him to prove that he is unaware of alleged anomalies at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth).

Sotto gave the statement a day after Duque - who also chairs the PhilHealth board - maintained that he had nothing to do with the "illegal" disbursement of COVID-19 funds to dialysis centers, as alleged under the Senate Committee of the Whole's report on supposed corruption at the state health insurer.

"Secretary Duque should hire a good lawyer," Sotto told reporters in an online press conference.

"Mula nung March nagre-release kayo ng P14.8 billion hanggang June. Chair ka ng board... Imposibleng hindi mo alam na mayroong board resolution," the Senate President said.

(Since March until June, they have released P14.8 billion. You're the chair of the board... It's impossible for you not to know that there was a board resolution about this.)

The board's chair "leads the direction and agenda" of every meeting, and if Duque insists that he was not aware of the irregular release of funds, then he is "practically admitting guilt to negligence," the senator said.

The Senate Committee of the Whole earlier recommended the filing of graft and malversation charges against Duque, resigned PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales and other executives of the state-run insurance firm after they allegedly authorized the release of COVID-19 funds to health facilities not catering to coronavirus patients.

At least 17 senators earlier signed a board resolution urging Duque to step down as health chief, saying he has failed to address the spread of COVID-19 in the Philippines, which now has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia.

President Rodrigo Duterte did not heed the Senate's request to sack Duque and insisted that it would be difficult to change officials in the middle of the global pandemic.