Noynoy Aquino blamed for PhilHealth ‘bleeding’

FORMER President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd is to blame for the P10.6 billion health fund diversion controversy that caused the serious depletion of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation’s (PhilHealth) reserve fund, an official of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) said on Sunday.

According to PACC Commissioner Manuel Luna, the amount involved was so huge that there was no way the secretary of the Department of Health and the head of PhilHealth could have convinced the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to realign the amount without the blessing of Malacañang.

“Now we found out that this [realignment]has the blessing of Aquino, although he was not the one who signed [the memorandum]because it was then former Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa who signed it. But in our [government]system, the Executive Secretary acts as the little President,” Luna said in an interview with The Manila Times.

The memorandum dated December 29, 2015 issued by Ochoa to then-Budget Secretary Florencio Abad showed that Aquino approved the request to use savings from the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund (MPBF) to augment “items of appropriation for various urgent projects.”

These include the construction of rural health units and village health stations and the purchase of 163 mobile dental units.

Luna said there was also a letter signed by former Health chief Janette Garin and ex-PhilHealth chief Alexander Padilla to waive the amount that was supposed to be used to pay for health insurance premiums of senior citizens.

The PACC commissioner said the move of Garin and Padilla to ask that the fund be waived and realigned for other purposes was highly irregular since it did not have the approval of the PhilHealth board or at least the majority of its members.

He added that while Garin and Padilla were part of the PhilHealth board, it is not enough for them to make such a decision.

Luna noted the officials had waived an appropriation that was already earmarked in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2016 for senior citizens’ health premiums.

“This is another irregularity that we found. How can they go against the law [GAA] which have been approved by Congress,” the PACC official said.

In fact, he added, Aquino in his veto message in the 2016 GAA said the fund would be used for the insurance premiums of the senior citizens so that all of the more than seven million elderly in the country would be automatically covered by PhilHealth.

Luna said the PACC has been conducting its own investigation of the multibillion-peso health fund anomaly even before the Senate Committee on Health and Demography conducted its hearing, and that he appreciates the what the Senate has been doing.

The commissioner added that the investigation led by Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito, chairman of the Senate health committee, would complement their investigation which is not only focused on the fund diversion but also on the implementation of the programs.

“That [Senate probe] will complement our investigation because those are [pieces of]testimonial evidence and what we have are [pieces of]documentary evidence,” Luna said.

Garin and Abad have denied any wrongdoing and said there was no release of such amount during that period from PhilHealth.

Luna said it is expected of those officials implicated to deny wrongdoing but he added that the PACC has documents that could indicate that there were irregularities.

“I really blame Aquino here because as the President then, he could have stopped it. He knew that PhilHealth will bleed because of the realignment,” he added.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd, during the Senate health committee hearing on the PhilHealth issue last week, said the reserve fund of the state-run health insurance corporation has dwindled to precarious levels.

The PACC learned that the contractor chosen by the Health department to construct the health stations did not only fail to complete the construction of 3,700 units but even tried to overbill the department.

Its commissioner said their investigation of the controversy is ongoing and they would submit their reports and recommendations to the President once they complete it.

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