MANILA — A “disappointed” Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Thursday reminded President Rodrigo Duterte of his vow to fire officials over a “whiff of corruption,” after the Chief Executive refused to sack the head of PhilHealth despite various allegations of anomaly.
Duterte should look at the transcript of a Senate hearing on Tuesday in which 2 whistleblowers accused PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales of approving overpriced equipment and the release of funds to supposedly favored hospitals—all worth hundreds of millions of pesos, said Lacson.
“Sabi niya (Duterte) kasi noong araw, just a whiff of corruption—‘pag sinabi mong whiff, makaamoy ka lang—you’re fired,” the senator told ANC.
(Duterte previously said even just a whiff of corruption, then you’re fired.)
“Of course, we do not question the authority of the President. Iyong hire-and-fire authority is always there, it’s his discretion… Pero ‘pag ganito namang may pandemya na pagkatapos ganyan ang maririnig natin, ewan ko kung hindi kayo ma-shock ,” he added.
(But if there is already a pandemic and we hear something like that, I don’t know why you wouldn’t be shocked.)
Morales, a former Army general, has denied that a criminal syndicate is embedded in his agency.
The President will not fire the PhilHealth chief “unless there’s evidence,” Malacañang said Wednesday.
“It goes without saying: I am disappointed,” Lacson said. “Do some remedial measures.”
DUQUE: PHILHEALTH OVERSEER
Duterte has also rejected the call of several senators, including Lacson, to fire Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, whose agency oversees PhilHealth, despite alleged lapses in the country's coronavirus pandemic response.
Replacing Duque will not adversely affect the health department, said Lacson.
"The structure is there, the organization is there… There are so many qualified members and staff," he reasoned.
Duque's “original sin” is failing to trace all the individuals who had close contact with the Philippines' first COVID-19 patients: a couple from Wuhan in central China, where the respiratory disease emerged late last year, said Lacson.
The health department's recent move to recalibrate its pandemic plans during the 2-week return of Metro Manila and 4 surrounding provinces to stricter lockdown measures is “good enough for a start,” the senator said.
“But could they do it? That’s another question at this point when we’re already [at the] top in Southeast Asia in terms of infection," he said.