Senate to summon 3 former Aquino officials in P10.6-B health fund mess

THE SENATE will summon three officials of former president Benigno Aquino 3rd who have been linked to the alleged diversion of P10.6 billion in government funds that were intended for the health insurance premiums of senior citizens, Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said on Friday.

“They (officials) will be given the chance to air their side. But it would be under the committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations (Blue Ribbon),” Ejercito said in an interview.

The senator was referring to former Budget secretary Florencio Abad, former Health secretary Janette Garin, and then Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) president Alexander Padilla.

The Office of Sen. Richard Gordon, who heads the blue ribbon committee, confirmed that there would be a hearing but that no date has been set.

Philhealth Chief Operating Officer Ruben John Basa, in Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography chaired by Ejercito, named Abad, Garin and Padilla as being responsible for diverting P10.6 billion from the Miscellaneous Personnel and Benefits Fund (MPBF) of the 2015 national budget to the health facilities enhancement program.

The realignment request for P10.6 billion was contained in a memorandum dated on December 29, 2015, signed by former executive secretary Paquito Ochoa, which at the same time sought the realignment of P3.5 billion to procure the Dengvaxia vaccines.

Garin, in a recent radio interview, denied the allegation and claimed that there was no request for a P10.6 billion transfer from Philhealth because there was simply no fund.

Asked for his reaction, Ejercito said the former government officials would have their chance to explain their side and that it would best if they would give their statements while under oath.

Ejercito, however, was not convinced with the initial explanation of Garin, noting that documents submitted to his committee indicated that there was a request for a fund transfer.

One of the documents Ejercito’s committee obtained was the August 5, 2015 letter signed by Garin and Padilla addressed to Abad.

In the letter, Garin and Padilla were asking Abad for the immediate release of P10.6 billion in unprogrammed appropriation for the Department of Health (DOH) to augment the 2015 Health Facilities Enhancement Program.

Garin and Padilla said the fund would be used for the construction of health stations in identified public elementary schools; equipment provision for village health stations; and infrastructure upgrading and equipment provision for rural health rural health units and urban health centers.

Ejercito also said that if there was no release of funds, where did the DOH get the budget to construct 217 of the 3,700 targeted rural health centers.

Asked if former president Aquino would be invited, Ejercito said the Senate would see where the investigation would lead and to determine whether there was a need for it.

“But as for now the ones directly involved in the issue were Abad, Garin, and Padilla,” said Ejercito. JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA


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