MANILA, Philippines — As senators seek the removal of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III amid alleged anomalies in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), Senate President Vicente Sotto III has filed a bill that would designate the finance secretary as chair of the state insurer’s board.
Sotto recently filed Senate Bill No. 1829, seeking to amend Section 13 of the Universal Health Care Act to assign the finance secretary as the ex-officio chairman of the PhilHealth board instead of the health chief.
According to the measure, the finance secretary “must be present and act as the chairman in all board actions and cannot be represented by an alternative or a representative.”
“Nag-file ako ng bill. Ang ginagawa kong chairman ng PhilHealth ang secretary ng finance. Dapat nakakaintindi sa business…Yun ang dapat chairman, secretary of finance, hindi yung secretary of health,” Sotto said in a television interview on Wednesday.
(I filed a bill. I proposed that the chairman of PhilHealth should be the secretary of finance. Someone who understands business…That’s who the chairman should be: the secretary of finance, not the secretary of health.)
Under Sotto’s measure, the health secretary will still be part of PhilHealth’s board “to provide necessary linkage to align” the [Department of Health] and the state insurance firm.
Being the health secretary, Duque currently serves as the ex-officio chairman of PhilHealth’s board.
Sotto’s bill comes after the Senate Committee of the Whole, which embarked on an investigation into the PhilHealth mess, recommended the filing of criminal charges against Duque and several others over the allegedly questionable release of billions of funds under the agency’s emergency cash advance measure.
“Based on the recently concluded Committee of the Whole hearing of PhilHealth’s alleged anomalies, the irregular and illegal disbursements of the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism greatly affected the actuarial life of PhilHealth and caused panic and alarm from the public,” according to the the bill’s explanatory note.
The health chief has already dismissed the committee’s findings as “baseless” that were made on “mere allegations alone.”
The Senate panel, led by Sotto, also called on President Rodrigo Duterte to replace Duque and appoint a new health secretary “who has a stronger will to fight corruption.”
But Duterte expressed his continued trust and confidence on Duque despite the allegations against him.
“[T]he avoidance and departure of the present Secretary of Health to fulfill his mandate as the Chairman of PhilHealth’s board, by placing a representative in his stead, clearly defeated the intent of the law mandating the Secretary of Health to be the Chairman of PhilHealth,” the explanatory note further read.
“Thus, the Secretary of Finance would be the most capable and effective to be the Chairman of the PhilHealth’s board,” it added.
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