Task Force PhilHealth unable to explain why Duque got off
THE PHILHEALTH scandal that diverted public health funds to private pockets made the pandemic even more difficult to bear for Filipinos already suffering economic deprivation and the continuing spread of the disease.
When the anomalies in the medical insurance system broke out in August, the president promptly played up his strong stance against corruption. On August 31, Duterte ordered PhilHealth’s newly appointed chief, retired NBI Director Dante Gierran to clean up the agency. “I told him the next two years will be devoted to fight against corruption. Find people we can send to jail. Para may maiwan tayo sa kulungan,” he added.
The media reported the president’s orders for a reshuffle within the state insurance firm and the creation of an inter-agency task force led by the DOJ to probe the culpability of officials. The task force included representatives from the Office of the Ombudsman, Commission on Audit, Civil Service Commission and the Office of the President. It also collaborated with other agencies including the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission.
Media followed the hearings in Congress in which Health Secretary Francisco Duque III admitted to the misuse of Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM) funds and the promise that these would be returned. The dismal performance of the DOH at various phases of the lockdown also triggered calls from some senators for Duque’s resignation.
Media also picked up Duterte’s repeated declarations of confidence in his health secretary even when the Senate recommended the filing of charges against Duque.
During the late-night briefing with Cabinet members on September 14, Duterte read the recommendations of Task Force PhilHealth which included the filing of graft, malversation of public funds, dishonesty and grave misconduct raps against resigned PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales and several other top officials of the agency.
As for Duque, the Task Force recommended only that the president “strongly admonish” and remind the health chief of the “grave consequence of his action or inaction.”
Media did not explain the mandate or the process by which the task force decided on who should be charged. Reports did not clarify why Duque, who oversaw the agency as chairman of the board, was let off only with a light reprimand. Some accounts did not even bother to examine the recommendations.
Those taking a more critical angle recalled the multiple times the president declared his trust in the health chief as the context for the official’s exemption. Only Rappler questioned the task force about its decision as a nod to the president’s determination to keep Duque in government.
CMFR monitored reports from the three major Manila broadsheets (Manila Bulletin, Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star); four primetime newscasts (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, CNN Philippines’ News Night, GMA-7’s 24 Oras and TV5’s One Balita); as well as selected news websites from September 15 to September 17, 2020.
Several lawmakers, including those from the administration, expressed their disappointment over Duque’s exclusion from the list of officials to be held criminally liable.
Among them were Senate President Vicente Sotto III who led the Senate probe,
Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan who pointed out that Duque is in the “list of corrupt and incompetent untouchables under this administration,” and Senator Risa Hontiveros who urged the justice department to review its findings.
Charge of Negligence
that the task force recommended the filing of charges against the other officials for their “negligence,” quoting DOJ spokesperson and Undersecretary Mark Parete who was speaking in behalf of the task force: “The totality of the evidence supports the reasonable conclusion that wrongful acts or omissions on the part of certain key corporate officers of PhilHealth have been committed…”
The Inquirer also on September 15 recalled that the president defended Duque on September 7, saying that he did not see a problem if Duque’s only fault was “negligence,” as long as Duque was not guilty of corruption.
However, there were officials charged because of “negligence” showing up even more the special treatment that Duque received from the task force.
Ignoring the Obvious Truth
On September 17, Rappler reported that Guevarra said that Duque could have caught the attempts of some officials to “conceal” information from the Board, if he had exerted due diligence in reviewing requests from the Executive Committee. Rappler sought comment from Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra about why Duque was not included among those charged, pointing out the president’s protection of Duque. Guevarra denied that this had anything to do with their recommendations. “Not at all, no effect as far as the task force is concerned, more particularly the DOJ.” By reporting this quote to the public, media allowed the DOJ to claim independence from the president’s influence without question. On the whole, the media failed to get the DOJ secretary to explain the basis of its decision, or to share its evaluation of the evidence which could justify Duque’s being exempt from charges while others were not. Hopefully, this is not the end of the story.