Privatizing PhilHealth will send 'wrong signal' that govt cannot be trusted, says Gierran

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 1) — The new chief of embattled Philippine Health Insurance Corp. is against privatizing the agency, saying it will only send a "wrong signal" that people distrust government officials.

During the joint hearing Thursday of the House committees on public accounts and good governance and public accountability, PhilHealth chief Dante Gierran opposed recommendations from lawmakers and even from President Rodrigo Duterte to privatize the state health insurer that has been hounded by numerous allegations of irregularities.

"We respect the wisdom of the President, pero kung i-privatize po, ano ang mangyayari sa ating mga miyembro?" said Gierran, who was appointed in August to lead the agency after the resignation of Gen. Ricardo Morales.

"Are we telling the people of the Philippines, the world, that only people in the private sector can work well, na hindi tayo marunong magtrabaho ng tama? It will send a wrong signal that people in the government cannot be trusted," he added.

[Translation: We respect the wisdom of the President, but if we will privatize, what will happen to our members? Are we telling the world that only people in the private sector can work well, that public officials do not know how to get the job done? It will send a wrong signal that people in the government cannot be trusted.]

Duterte previously floated the idea of either abolishing or privatizing the PhilHealth, but said he will first attempt to reorganize the agency by deeming all its personnel resigned.

Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay, who represented Task Force PhilHealth before the panel, said they also did not go as far as recommending that PhilHealth be abolished. The DOJ-led inter-agency task force was assigned to investigate, conduct lifestyle checks, and preventively suspend PhilHealth personnel.

"The report was more of recommending reforms in the process of PhilHealth. We would not have gone as far as saying that we do not need PhilHealth," Sugay said.

'Do not spare Duque from PhilHealth mess'

Meanwhile, the joint House panel on Wednesday also asked the Department of Justice to include in its findings the liability of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who was dropped in the initial list of officials recommended to face complaints.

"You really have to study the role of Secretary Duque. How can you be a chairman of the board na lagi mong sasabihin, 'wala ako diyan, executive officers lang', pero yung taong matagal nang nandiyan, alam na lahat ng kalokohan pinapabyaan lang," Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla told Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay, who represented the inter-agency task force.

[Translation: You really have to study the role of Secretary Duque. How can you be a chairman of the board and keep on saying, 'I'm not part of that, it's only the executive officers,' when the person who has long been tenured and aware of the controversies would just let them go on.]

Duque served as president of PhilHealth from 2001 to 2005; its chairman from 2005 to 2010; then reappointed to the post in 2017.

The task force has yet to formally file complaints against the officials, particularly those involved in the controversial interim reimbursement scheme of the agency.

The task force is also looking into other fraud allegations, including the questionable procurement of IT equipment of the agency and the potential collusion of the private sector in other schemes.