PhilHealth official vows continued service amid abolition, privatization call

Aleta Nieva Nishimori, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 18 2020 01:15 PM

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MANILA— While hounded by allegations of corruption, the embattled Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) will continue to provide services to its millions of members despite the possibility of being abolished or privatized, an official said Friday.

“Tuloy po ang ating serbisyo at ito naman po ang inaasahan ng taumbayan. Wala pong mintis, wala pong humpay 'yung ating paglilingkod,” said Rey Balena, the agency's deputy spokesperson.

(We continue to provide the services expected by the public. Our service is unceasing and without fail.)

President Rodrigo Duterte had told Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III in a recent meeting that he wants to abolish or privatize PhilHealth. 

This followed findings of both the Senate and an interagency task force that several officials at the state health insurer, which covers medical bills of Filipinos, were liable for alleged irregularities at the agency.

“Pero tayo ay umaasa dahil tayo po ay programa na talagang pinakikinabangan at inaasahan ng milyon-milyon nating mga kababayan. Sa ganiyang usapin, ipinagbabahala po natin ‘yan sa katalinuhan at wisdom ng ating President at maging ng Kongreso, sila po ang lubos na nakakabatid kung ano ang mabuti,” said Balena in an interview on ABS-CBN's Teleradyo.

(But we continue to hope because we are a program that is useful and is expected by millions of Filipinos. We leave it up to the wisdom of the President and also to Congress because they are the ones who know what is truly best for us.)

Sotto had told the President, in response to the idea of PhilHealth abolition or privatization, to wait and see how its new chief, former National Bureau of Investigation director Dante Gierran, performs. 

“Inaasahan po natin, dahil kami naman po ay susuporta sa kaniya, anuman pong reporma ang kaniyang ipatutupad sa PhilHealth,” Balena said.

(We will support whatever reforms he will implement at PhilHealth.)

Duterte appointed Gierran as the new PhilHhealth president and chief executive officer weeks after retired general Ricardo Morales tendered his resignation over health issues, just as corruption allegations against the agency raged. 

“Kami po ay tumitiwala rin sa good judgement ni Atty. Gierran kung talagang may kailangan siyang aksiyonan, susuportahan namin siya,” sabi niya.

(We believe in the good judgement of Atty. Gierran. We will support him, whatever he has to act on.)

As several officials now face charges for alleged corruption, Balena said the agency would respect proceedings as PhilHealth personnel also want to find out the truth. 

“Ipabahala na natin ang resulta nito, yaman din lamang may inirekomenda nang kakasuhan at mayroon pang susunod batay sa pahayag ni Sec. [Menardo] Guevarra, siguro mabuti po 'yun ang abangan natin. Kahit kami po sa PhilHealth gusto rin po namin ng katotohanan,” he said.

(We leave it up to them since a recommendation was already made to file charges and there will be others to be charged based on Sec. Guevarra, so let's wait for that. Even we at PhilHealth, we also want to know the truth.)
 
Balena said proposals to privatize or outsource some of the work at PhilHealth is no longer new. This has been studied in the past, such as outsourcing the collection or the claims processing, which other government agencies are also doing, he said.

“Ang sa amin lang po, kung ito naman ay talagang magiging aksiyon ng Kongreso, tayo ay tagapagpatupad lamang ng batas, kung talagang nakita nila na ito ay sa ikabubuti,” he said.

(If this is going to be the action of Congress, then it would be for the best, we are here to implement the law.)

Sotto earlier said the President agreed to his proposal to appoint the Secretary of Finance as ex-officio chairman of the PhilHealth Board, replacing the Secretary of Health.

In response to this, Balena said: “Basically, we are a health financing institution, kumbaga we are in the business of financing at siguro 'yun ang nakita ni Senate President Sotto na marapat para sa aming board."

(Basically, we are a health financing institution, we are in the business of financing and that is probably what Senate President Sotto saw and deemed right for our board.)