Theft gets qualified, and is penalized two degrees higher when property is taken on the occasion of a public calamity.
The alleged theft of billions of pesos placed by Filipinos in the care of government to answer for times of great need is “the crime of the year,” to quote lawyer Thorrsson Montes Keith, erstwhile antifraud officer of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).
Just when government is scraping for much-needed funds in order to competently respond to a pandemic that has caused the Philippine economy to contract in an unprecedented fashion, we hear of a shouting match in the PhilHealth boardroom over the alleged massive overpricing of a proposed IT system that, ironically, is touted to address corruption allegations against this government corporation chaired by no less than the Secretary of Health.
It was rumors of that shouting match, and the resignation of Atty. Keith in its aftermath, that led to the ongoing congressional investigation into smoldering allegations of corruption in PhilHealth, this time with the qualifying circumstance of a rampaging pandemic.
“We really have to remove all those who are corrupt,” Sen. Christopher Go declared last Tuesday. He urged the Ombudsman “to investigate so that we will know who should be held responsible. Please get to the bottom of this mess. We need to know those who are behind this scheme, if there is in fact a mafia, and who are the people in it.”
Is that an earnest plea for accountability or a desperate gesture to save face for an administration that was able to take power on a loud anti-criminality and anti-corruption platform?
The Governance Commission for GOCCs (GCG) is an important but often forgotten agency of government that under Republic Act No. 10149 is supposed to coordinate and monitor the operations of government corporations and ensure alignment and consistency with the national development policies and programs.
Included in the GCG’s crucial functions is to identify skills and qualifications required for appointive directors and recommend to the President a shortlist of suitable and qualified candidates for appointive directors.
Has the GCG performed its mandate by conscientiously vetting directorships, or has it become a stamp-pad or lobbying arm for politicians out to hoard power and influence in certain important sectors of governance? Or is Malacañang appointing at all from among those listed or vetted by the GCG?
The President of PhilHealth is at the same time the Vice Chairman of its Board of Directors.
Among the first PhilHealth appointees by this administration was Celestina Ma. Jude dela Serna, appointed on July 1, 2016 representing overseas Filipino workers. When she became PhilHealth OIC president in April 2017, she was famed to have spent hundreds of thousands of government funds for her accommodations, and travel to and from Tagbilaran.
The Commission on Audit required dela Serna to explain her reimbursements because despite being assigned to the PhilHealth central office, she did not stay or rent a house in Manila, but instead booked herself for days on end in hotels near the office on Shaw Boulevard in Pasig City.
Dela Serna’s appointment as board member for OFWs in 2016 is known to be her first post in government. Her qualification, it seems, is that she used to run a private clinic in Bohol and was chief of two small hospitals in the province: a 15-bed community hospital and a 25-bed memorial hospital.
But then, she is also the daughter of Victor de la Serna, President Rodrigo Duterte’s professor at San Beda, who he also appointed a member of the consultative committee on amending the 1987 Constitution.
Malacañang did not have to look far for a replacement for Dela Serna. Roy B. Ferrer, a doctor from Davao, was already on board as an appointive director, and when he was PhilHealth President made the bold declaration that “no mafia can survive in the PhilHealth under the watch of Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.”
It was Ferrer who was at the helm when PhilHealth got hounded by a fresh slew of controversies sometime in June 2019. He resigned after media exposés on the alleged funding of bogus dialysis treatment for patients who are already died. He was quietly appointed as Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health this February.
Now we have Ricardo Morales, a retired army general whose resume includes being vice president and general manager of the AFP General Insurance Corp., and president and CEO of the AFP Mutual Benefit Association Inc.
But his “only qualification,” according to Ramon Tulfo, “is that he and the President are both from Davao City,” and that Morales used to be a “factotum to the mayor in public.”
There is nothing wrong about Senator Go’s call for action, like the Ombudsman’s intervention in the investigation of anomalies within PhilHealth. But what we are not hearing from him is a renewed call for meritocracy in a significant number of government appointments./WDJ