Bayanihan 2 lodges more funds in DOH, not PhilHealth amid corruption issues – Angara

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Senator Sonny Angara (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 21) — Lawmakers opted to lodge funds provided by the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act under the Department of Health rather than PhilHealth as corruption issues continue to hound the health insurance agency, a senator said Friday.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sonny Angara said the bicameral conference committee which finalized Congress' version of the ₱165.5-billion stimulus plan on Thursday chose to allot more for DOH programs, saying PhilHealth still had money to cover hospital reimbursements for the COVID-19 medical bills of Filipinos.

"That was a concern. In fact, the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) wanted to give the money straight to PhilHealth to reimburse the hospitals right away. As you know, the Senate is investigating PhilHealth currently and in the course of our investigation, lumabas na may ₱200 billion pa sila na pondo [it came out that they still have ₱200 billion]. In fact I think there is ₱22 billion pa (for) COVID response," Angara told CNN Philippines' The Source.

READ: 51 hospitals with fraud cases still got ₱1.49 B from PhilHealth — lawmaker

"On paper it's more than enough. I don't know what’s taking long, baka maburukrasya sila [if they are too bureaucratic], there are some allegations of favoritism and corruption. In the meantime, we'll give the health funds to the DOH."

RELATED: PhilHealth suspends release of cash advances intended for COVID-19 to hospitals

PhilHealth is under intense scrutiny after a resigned employee flagged irregularities in the agency's procurement of IT systems. A series of Senate investigations also revealed issues on the misuse of the interim reimbursement mechanism for health facilities, benefits granted to dead and non-existing patients, and the non-filing of cases and penalties by the agency's legal department amid such allegations.

A so-called "PhilHealth mafia" composed of internal officials are said to be behind this. The Office of the Ombudsman has suspended several regional directors just this week.

The stimulus plan seeks to revive the Philippine economy, which has crashed due to months on lockdown. The amount consists of ₱140 billion of regular appropriations and an additional standby fund of ₱25.5 billion.

Of the amount, DOH will receive ₱3 billion for additional face masks, personal protective equipment, shoe covers, and face shields, alongside ₱13.5 billion for emergency employment of health workers.

The bill also set aside ₱4.5 billion for the construction of temporary isolation and quarantine facilities as well as the expansion of existing public hospitals.

"We cannot get the economy going if people have no confidence that they can go out there safely, kaya nag-iinvest tayo sa health capacity ng ating bansa [so we are investing in our country's health capacity]," Angara said.

DOH will also take charge of additional testing and contact tracing, including a ₱10 billion standby fund for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines which are ready for rollout.

Russia announced the creation of the Sputnik V, but the vaccine still needs to undergo phase 3 clinical trials before approval for use by the Food and Drug Administration.

Some ₱4.5 billion was also allotted for the Department of National Defense to cover expenses in isolating and treating returning overseas Filipino workers who test positive for COVID-19. Angara said the government has been paying for their lodging, usually in hotels, as well as food while they recover from the disease. A separate ₱820 million fund is given to the Department of Foreign Affairs for repatriation efforts.

Angara added that the Bayanihan 2 Act will require President Rodrigo Duterte to submit a report to Congress monthly until the end of the year — a departure from the old requirement of a weekly formal report. The Commission on Audit must also be furnished a copy, which the senator said was a request which came from Malacañang for transparency.

The measure also provides subsidies to other sectors, Angara said:

- ₱39.472 billion as capital infusion to government banks to allow them to extend more loans, especially to small firms;

- ₱24 billion as assistance to farmers and the Plant, Plant, Plant initiative of the Department of Agriculture;

- ₱13 billion for the government’s cash-for-work program for short-term employment;

- ₱9.5 billion assistance to the transportation sector;

- ₱6 billion for additional assistance funds under the Department of Social Welfare and Development;

- ₱5 billion for the hiring of more contact tracers;

- ₱4.1 billion for the tourism industry, which includes ₱100 million for the training and subsidies to tour guides;

- ₱4 billion for the implementation of digital education;

- ₱3 billion for the development of smart campuses across the country;

- ₱2 billion subsidy for the payment of interest on local government loans from state-run banks;

- ₱1.5 billion assistance to local government units

- ₱1 billion for TESDA scholarships;

- ₱600 million as subsidies and allowances for students severely impacted by the pandemic;

- ₱300 million as subsidies and allowances to teaching and non-teaching personnel, and part-time faculty in state universities and colleges;

- ₱180 million as allowance for national athletes and coaches;

- ₱15 million for UP Diliman’s Computational Research Laboratory;

- ₱10 million research fund of the Health Technology Assessment Council;

- and ₱2.5 million for the computer-based licensure of the Philippine Red Cross.

Apart from the ₱10-billion vaccine fund, another ₱15.5 billion allotment is on hold for additional capital infusion to Landbank and the Development Bank of the Philippines.