MANILA - Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Friday rejected the plan of a House of Representatives panel to give President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers to fix reported anomalies in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth), saying it would be better to fire Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, the agency's board chair.
"Emergency powers to reorganize Philhealth? Try real, honest-to-goodness, strong political will first. For a start, fire its ex-officio chairman," Sen. Panfilo Lacson said in a tweet.
"No matter how good our country’s economic managers are, if our health department is below the level of incompetence in the middle of this pandemic, we will all sink before we can even start to swim," said Lacson, who has repeatedly called for Duque's resignation.
Lacson was among 17 senators who earlier signed a resolution urging Duque to step down from his post, saying the health chief failed to isolate persons who came in contact with the first COVID-19 carrier in the Philippines, and for failing to preposition medical supplies that left health workers seeking donations at the height of the global pandemic.
Duque earlier backed the House panel's proposal to fast track reforms in PhilHealth, where he has been part of the board for nearly 2 decades.
President Rodrigo Duterte has rejected calls to let Duque go.
Opposition Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan gave a similar statement, saying there is no need for emergency powers if the national government would only heed the Senate's call to replace Duque as health chief.
"Kung seryoso talaga silang ayusin ang PhilHealth at tugunan ang COVID, sibakin nila si Duque at sampahan ng kaso ang mga nasa likod ng overpricing ng test kits, testing machines, at ng bilyong binulsa sa PhilHealth ng Mindanao mafia," Pangilinan said in a statement.
(If they are really serious about fixing PhilHealth and responding to COVID, they should fire Duque and file charges against those behind the overpricing of test kits, testing machines, and billions of pesos pocketed by the PhilHealth mafia in Mindanao.)
"'Yan ang solusyon, hindi emergency powers," he said.
(That's the solution, not emergency powers.)
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the House's suggestion would be "opposed" in the Senate as the "President can reform and reorganize PhilHealth without emergency powers from Congress."
Under the law, emergency powers for the President could only be granted if both chambers of Congress allow it.
"Congress has already delegated to the President, by virtue of RA 10149, the power to reorganize PhilHealth," Drilon said in a statement.
Under the said law, the President - through the Governance Council for GOCCs (GCG) - is authorized to reorganize all government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs), as well as "evaluate the performance and determine the relevance of the GOCC."
Executive Order No. 292 also allows the President to reorganize officials in agencies under the executive branch, he said.
Duque, along with recently resigned PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales, are among those the Senate Committee of the Whole had recommended to be prosecuted for alleged involvement in corrupt practices at the state health insurer.
The health chief said he would cooperate with the investigation and clear his name.