9 in 10 agree there is widespread corruption in PhilHealth, many criticize Morales and Duterte


PhilHealth’s former anti-fraud legal officer Thorrsson Montes Keith broke his silence on the alleged widespread corruption in the state-run agency. Labelled as the “crime of the year”, Keith claimed that some PHP15 billion were stolen by its officials through various fraudulent schemes such as unauthorized release of funds and overpriced IT systems and equipment.

The culture of corruption in PhilHealth, according to Keith, is due to a mafia syndicate inside the agency operated by its own officials and other high-ranking individuals in the government. A series of Senate and Congress hearings were held since and a PhilHealth Task Force composed of several agencies under the Executive was also formed to conduct investigation on the alleged rampant corruption.

Using convenience survey of 12,851 respondents nationwide within the period of August 11 to 15, 2020 and data mining method of digital political sentiments of around 1,181,646 Facebook engagements collected within August 6 to 11, 2020, WR Numero Research sought to gauge the opinions of the public on the corruption allegations and controversies in PhilHealth, particularly the involvement of its President and CEO Ricardo Morales.

When asked whether there is massive corruption in the state-run agency, an overwhelming majority (86%) agree that there is indeed corruption in PhilHealth. The second survey question asked whether PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales should resign from his post. 6 to 7 in 10 of the respondents (66%) agree that he should resign from his post.

Data from digital sentiment presented a more nuanced and detailed outcome of the various attitudes of online Filipinos regarding the issue. With close to 1 million Facebook engagements collected on August 6, the biggest portion pertain to criticisms towards presidential appointee Ricardo Morales and other PhilHealth officials allegedly involved in the corruption, followed by calls for appropriate punishment such as imprisonment or death penalty. Some expressed their anger and frustration over the systemic corruption in the agency and in the government as a whole, while some criticized President Duterte.

Finally, engagements of more than 276,000 collected on August 11 showed relatively similar sentiment to the previous one. More than half criticize the PhilHealth officials who are allegedly involved in the corruption, as well as President Rodrigo Duterte. Some highlighted the corruption in the government and demand to impose death penalty for those involved.

The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation or PhilHealth, an attached agency of the Department of Health (DOH), was instituted through R.A. 7875 or the National Health Insurance Act of 1995 to provide health insurance coverage for all citizens of the Philippines. The recent corruption scandal in PhilHealth, however, is not a new phenomenon as several empirical literatures have already pointed out the decades-long poor, corrupt, and problematic healthcare system in the Philippines (Azfar & Gurgur, 2008; Lewis, 2006; Olarte & Chua, 2005).

In a study by Hartigan-Go, Valera, and Visperas (2013), widespread corruption in the Philippine health sector is the result of complex interactions and lack of coordination among relevant institutions, combined with a convoluted system and weak monitoring mechanisms. In 2005, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism found that up to 70% of funds for local healthcare are lost to corruption, highlighting the rampant vile practices by local government officials.

In mid-2019, President Duterte appointed retired Brigadier General Ricardo C. Morales as PhilHealth chief supposedly for the main purpose of purging the state-run health provider of its systemic corruption. Prior to this, he was initially appointed to head the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) and was replaced by another retiring military officer Lieutenant General Emmanuel Salamat. Morales also once served as the CEO and president of the Armed Forces and Police Mutual Benefit Association Incorporated (AFPMBAI), an organization that provides insurance plans and financial solutions for uniformed personnel and their families.

Morales’ career traced back to the late 1970s. During the Marcos regime, he was once then-first lady Imelda Marcos’ aide de camp while also leading the Reform the Armed Forces Movement or RAM, a group of rebellious military officers who plotted to oust Ferdinand Marcos. Morales was later on arrested upon the discovery of the clandestine group.

The 67-year-old retired army general also hails from Davao City, President Duterte’s hometown.

Another prominent individual at the center of this corruption scandal is DOH Secretary Francisco Duque who has held various positions in the public health sector at different capacities since 2001.

During the intense presidential race between the late FPJ and Arroyo in 2004, Duque was involved in a so-called “Plan 5 million” scandal at which he allegedly ordered the distribution of 5 million PhilHealth cards plastered with Arroyo’s campaign slogan. As then DOH Secretary and de facto PhilHealth Board Chairperson during Arroyo’s presidency, Duque was flagged by COA for excesses in administrative expenses worth almost P300 million in 2008 and 2009. In 2017, COA once again flagged the excessive and unauthorized allowances in PhilHealth worth P7.9 million under the helm of Duque as Board Chairperson. Following a series of senate investigations in 2019 regarding the Dengvaxia issue, Duque faced plunder and graft complaints after the uncover of anomalous lease contract entered into by PhilHealth with EMDC, a company owned by Duque’s family.

Amid a global health crisis that has infected more than 200,000 and killed 3,000 Filipinos, there is nothing more seen as a disservice to the nation than discovering that a P15 billion fund was stolen from the health agency. This event literally means life and death for many Filipinos dependent on the benefits and financial assistance they are supposed to receive.

References:

Azfar, O. and Gurgur, T. (2008). Does corruption affect health outcomes in the Philippines? Economics of Governance 9, pp. 197–244.

Hartigan-Go, K., Valera, M.T., and Visperas, M.K. (2013). A Framework to Promote Good Governance in Healthcare. AIM Working Paper Series No. 13-021.

Lewis, M. (2006). Governance and Corruption in Public Health Care Systems. Center for Global Development Working Paper No. 78.

Olarte, A.M. and Chua, Y.T. (2005, May 2). Up to 70% of local healthcare funds lost to corruption. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

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