Sotto pushes for bill removing Health Secretary as PhilHealth board chair

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 16 2020 08:59 PM

MANILA - Senate President Vicente Sotto III has filed a bill seeking to amend the country's Universal Health Care law to remove the Health Secretary as the chair of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) board.

The Secretary of Finance "would be the most capable and effective" official to chair the state-run insurance firm, Sotto said in the explanatory note of the bill filed last Monday.

"Since one of PhilHealth's critical mandate is to have a sustainable fund management to ensure the continuous delivery of health care services, it is deemed proper and appropriate... that the chairman of the board should be the Secretary of Finance," the Senate President said.

"The avoidance and departure of the present Secretary of Health to fulfill his mandate as the chairman of PhilHealth's board, by placing a representative in his stead, clearly defeated the intent of the law," he said.

The Senate Committee of the Whole earlier recommended the filing of graft and malversation charges against Health Secretary Francisco Duque III after the chamber found that PhilHealth officials tried to overprice several items needed for the firm's modernization program.

Duque was also at the PhilHealth's helm when his subordinates authorized the questionable release of COVID-19 funds to dialysis centers and maternity clinics at the height of the global pandemic in the country.

Despite the Senate's recommendation, a Department of Justice-led investigating panel did not cite Duque as among those responsible for the alleged anomalies in PhilHealth.

Duque is the lone government official who has been in the PhilHealth board for nearly 2 decades.

Sotto and other senators had repeatedly criticized Duque for 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.

In April, 14 senators - including Sotto - signed a resolution seeking for Duque's removal as Health chief.

President Rodrigo Duterte did not heed the call, saying Duque still enjoys his trust.