Lacson to Morales: One year 'long enough' to handle PhilHealth mess

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 6) — A year would have been enough for the head of the embattled Philippine Health Insurance Corp. to address long-standing corruption and other controversies, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Thursday.

"One year is long enough for a new leader, new manager to find out what is happening in his organization. Matagal na iyon (That's long enough)," Lacson said in an interview with CNN Philippines' The Source.

Lacson was referring to PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales, who has been in hot water over numerous allegations of fraud and other corrupt practices within the state insurance agency.

The senator stressed that PhilHealth officials who have been repeatedly defending their name, like Morales, have done nothing to address the controversies of the embattled agency. Some even got promoted to higher positions under his term.

"It's amusing to hear all of them. Lahat naman sinasabi, 'we are fighting corruption,' 'we are against corruption,' 'hindi kami myembro ng syndicate,' eh bakit may corruption?" Lacson said.

[Translation: It's amusing to hear all of them. Everybody's saying, 'we are fighting corruption,' 'we are against corruption,' 'we are not members of a syndicate,' then why is corruption still rampant?]

"Ang tagal na nila doon sa PhilHealth. Yung iba naman who are facing charges, they got promoted under Morales. So what can you make of these issues?"

[Translation: They have long been there in PhilHealth. Those who are facing chages even got promoted udner Morales. So what can you make of these issues?]

On Tuesday's Senate hearing, Lacson and a former PhilHealth official named Atty. Rodolfo del Rosario, now Senior Vice President of the Legal Sector; Dr. Israel Pargas, SVP for Health Finance Policy Sector; Corporate Secretary Jonathan Mangaoang; Renato Limsiaco, SVP for the Fund Management Sector; and Dennis Mas, SVP for Management Services Sector, as among those who have been manipulating the financial records of PhilHealth through a "deeply-rooted mafia syndicate" despite changes in leadership.

READ: Whistleblower claims ₱15 billion stolen by PhilHealth execs in fraud schemes 

Lacson stressed that with numerous fraud schemes, Morales either has been "misled" or "co-opted" by the agency's corrupt practices.

Morales earlier denied that he was a "coddler" of the so-called mafia in the agency.

Duterte should reconsider Morales' post

Lacson called on President Rodrigo Duterte to review the issues uncovered in Tuesday's Senate hearing, then decide himself if Morales is still worthy of his post.

Duterte appointed Morales, a retired army general from Davao City, to lead PhilHealth in June 2019.

"It's systemic, going on for the longest time, even with past presidents and CEOs...I hope Palace will take a look at the findings and decide for themselves if there is still wisdom in keeping Morales."

In his State of the Nation Address in 2016, Duterte warned about immediately replacing his designated officials, once he senses "even a whiff" of corruption.

But some of them, who were either reappointed or remain in office, continue to face controversies, including Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, for alleged mismanagement of the country's COVID-19 response.

Duterte himself said in his past speeches that he himself wanted Duque to keep his post despite the Senate and other lawmakers calling for his resignation.

"Kapag nakakarinig ng statement of support sa Malacañang, lumalakas ang loob," Lacson said. "Si Morales ganoon din."

[Translation: When they hear a statement of support from Malacañang, they have more guts to continue. Morales is also like that.]