MANILA - Some senators on Tuesday condemned the non-inclusion of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in the list of individuals that an investigating panel found liable for alleged anomalous policies in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth).
A Department of Justice-led task force said Duque was not liable for the questionable release of COVID-19 funds to dialysis centers, and an alleged attempt to overprice tech equipment needed for PhilHealth's modernization program.
"While I respect the DOJ Panel, I am disappointed," opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said in a statement.
"We do not know if Duque is negligent, complicit or incompetent, but the three public hearings of the Senate clearly reveal the failures of our health system under Duque’s leadership," she said.
Duque is the lone government official who never vacated the PhilHealth board since he was given a seat in 2001 under the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said he was not surprised that Duque was excluded from liability.
"Duque being unpunished is no longer surprising," he told reporters in a text message.
"The list of corrupt and incompetent untouchables under this Administration is getting longer," he said, noting that cases were not filed against several allies of President Rodrigo Duterte who were also tagged in anomalies in other agencies.
"If we want to clean up PhilHealth, we have to go after the big fish. And we can't let them get away easily," Hontiveros said.
The Senate Committee of the Whole earlier released a report recommending the filing of graft and malversation charges against Duque, noting that he was the chair of the PhilHealth board when the alleged anomalies happened.
The Senate, however, is only authorized to conduct oversight investigations, and does not have the power to file actual cases in court.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he expects the DOJ-led team's findings to be the "first big step in making those criminally and administratively liable for the misuse and abuse of public monies accountable."
"At least, for a change, we can hope that these 'vultures' will suffer for their misdeeds to satisfy their greed at the expense of the sick and the unhealthy among our countrymen," he said.
Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go said he expected the DOJ to "continue its investigation on any and all anomalies in PhilHealth as well as other agencies of the government."
"Inaasahan kong tututukan din ng DOJ ang pagsasampa ng mga kaukulang kaso at siguraduhing mahatulan at makulong ang mga nagkasala," he said.
"Hindi puwedeng hanggang imbestigasyon lang tayo, kailangan may agarang aksyon at may makulong," he said.
In April, 14 senators signed a resolution calling for the resignation of Duque as Health secretary over his alleged failure to "put in place the necessary precautionary measures to lessen, if not at all prevent, the impact" of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duterte did not heed the senators' call, and repeatedly affirmed his trust to his Health minister.