Senate probe on PhilHealth issues to push through despite 2-week lockdown — Sotto

Robie de Guzman   •   August 3, 2020   •   343

Senate President Vicente Sotto III

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday said that the scheduled investigation into allegations of “widespread corruption” in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) will still push through despite a possible lockdown of the Senate building.

The Senate is set to convene as a Committee of the Whole on Tuesday, August 4 to delve into reports of alleged corruption in PhilHealth.

“Hearings will not be covered by our ‘ECQ’. Tuloy [ang] PhilHealth [probe] tomorrow,” Sotto said in a message to reporters.

Earlier, sources said that the Senate will be placed on a two-week lockdown in support of the medical workers’ plea for timeout.

The Senate leader said the hearing will be conducted in a “hybrid” setup, which means that senators’ physical and virtual attendance will be acknowledged.

Resource persons invited to the hearing, however, will be required to physically appear in the Senate.

Among those invited to face in the probe is PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales.

“We seek to get the answers to the questions of how and where these funds were spent. The important thing, the bottom line is we need to amend the law. Apparently, we need to amend the law creating PhilHealth to prevent similar occurrences in the future,” Sotto said.

Also invited to the hearing are PhilHealth Board Member Alejandro Cabading, former Head Executive Assistant Estrobal Laborte, and resigned Atty. Thorsson Montes Kieth, who claimed there is widespread corruption in the agency. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

Senate recommends forming committee to look into PhilHealth funds

Aileen Cerrudo   •   September 4, 2020

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon is recommending the formation of a committee that will look into the funds of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

The Senator laments that even the Department of Finance cannot determine PhilHealth’s state in as fas as its budget is concerned due to the agency’s weak information system.

Drilon wants an Ad hoc committee composed of financial experts from the Social Security System (SSS), the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), and other insurance corporations that will verify PhilHealth’s financial status.

This is to determine how much subsidy the agency can provide for next year.

One of PhilHealth’s officials previously revealed that the agency’s reserve funds will not be enough if the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues. The official also revealed the agency will only last until 2022 which was questioned by several lawmakers.

“How much really does it need in order to continue its operation? Is P71 billion the correct amount? Is it more? Is it less? This [the committee] will also give us the opportunity to review how much should be due to our health system in general,” Drilon said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III supports this recommendation. Sotto agrees that there is a need to review PhilHealth’s financial situation.

“We suggested yesterday that there should be an urgent and extensive review and inspection of the corporation’s financial life,” he said. -AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

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Senate probe will push through as PhilHealth chief requests for leave — Sotto

Aileen Cerrudo   •   August 10, 2020

Senate President Vicente ‘Tito’ Sotto assured that the probe on the alleged corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) will push through amid the request of its president, Ricardo Morales, for a medical leave.

“It won’t stop our inquiry and other witnesses and testimonies from coming out. It won’t also stop the filing of charges against erring officials of PhilHealth if warranted,” he said.

Morales submitted his medical certificate stating that he cannot physically attend the Senate hearing due to his medical condition.

Meanwhile, the PhilHealth official lamented his privacy was not respected after his medical certificate was leaked to the public.

“As president and chief executive, it is my duty to represent the corporation while still physically capable. I regret that my privacy was not respected,” he said in a statement.

PhilHealth Executive Vice President and COO Arnel De Jesus also advised the Senate his inability to attend the said hearing due to a medical emergency. The Senate inquiry is scheduled for Tuesday (August 11).

Meanwhile, members of the Department of Information and Communications Technology will also attend the hearing to shed light on the issue of the alleged overpriced IT System budget of PhilHealth.

Sotto has also recommended putting the witnesses under the protection program of the Department of Justice. AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

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Senate opens 2nd regular session of 18th Congress

Robie de Guzman   •   July 27, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Monday, July 27 opened its second regular session of the 18th Congress ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address set to be delivered later in the afternoon.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III opened the session around 10 a.m. with 17 senators physically present at the session hall while six others participated through video conference.

“I open the second regular session of the 18th Congress of the Senate with a sense of urgency and a purpose. As long as we share the burden of the COVID pandemic with other countries of the world, we must continue to work towards saving lives and easing our common anxiety. This truth is unavoidable,” Sotto said in his speech.

“The Senate has promptly responded to the needs of our nation. Still, the Senate is ready to do more,” he added.

He also vowed that the Senate will continue to work on several priority measures in response to the crisis brought about by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

These measures include the strengthening of the country’s public transport system, digital landscape as it transitions to new normal, distance learning for students amid the public health crisis and initiatives to help distressed enterprises to recover from the economic fallout brought about by the pandemic.

In a separate statement, Sotto said the Senate is also expected to pass the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, which was passed on second reading before the sine die adjournment last month.

The measure seeks to extend the powers granted to President Rodrigo Duterte under Republic Act No. 11469 to carry out national policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senate is also expected to pass the repackaged Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act (CREATE), formerly the Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act (CITIRA), to help businesses, especially micro, small and medium enterprises badly hit by the pandemic, rebuild, recover and retain jobs for their employees.

Other priority measures the Senate President is pushing are the Medical Scholarship Act, Presidential Drug Enforcement Authority Act, Hybrid Election Act, Anti-False Content Act and the 14th Month Pay law. The Senate will also tackle the Expanded Solo Parents Act, the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, the creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience, amendments to Public Service Act and the Agrarian or Agriculture Credit Cooperative Condonation Act, among others.

In previous years, senators would open their session at the Senate Building in Pasay in the morning before travelling to the Batasang Pambansa, the headquarters of the House of Representatives in Quezon City in the afternoon to attend the president’s SONA.

But due to the pandemic, only eight of the 24 senators will be physically witnessing this year’s SONA. These are Sotto, Senate Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senators Francis Tolentino, Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Sherwin Gatchalian, Pia Cayetano, and Ramon Bong Revilla.

The Senate and House of Representatives will hold a joint session at 4 p.m. Monday at the Batasang Pambansa to hear the president’s address. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

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