Sotto: Duterte OK with proposal to replace health chief as PhilHealth chair

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 16) — President Rodrigo Duterte favored a proposal to replace the health secretary with a different Cabinet member as chairman of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), Senate President Tito Sotto said on Wednesday.

Sotto filed Senate Bill 1829 on Monday which seeks to transfer the chairmanship of PhilHealth to the finance secretary, amending a provision in the Universal Healthcare Law which designated the health secretary for the post. Sotto reasoned that incumbent Health Secretary Francisco Duque failed to fulfill his mandate as board chairman.

"I just talked to PRRD, he agrees!" said Sotto in a tweet, referring to the President.

Senator Bong Go,a former close aide of the Duterte, confirmed that the President was "okay" with the idea.

PhilHealth was recently subjected to a rigorous investigation for corruption, prompting lawmakers to recommend the filing of graft charges against its top officials including Duque and ex-president Ricardo Morales.

However, the Justice Department-led task force PhilHealth did not include Duque in its list of officials recommended to face charges. Duterte on Tuesday approved the recommendation of the multi-agency task.

Duterte has repeatedly insisted that Duque should neither be fired nor resign despite wide criticisms against his leadership in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the issues raised on the PhilHealth probe include the alleged illegal release of funds to hospitals prior to its effectivity date, and the proposed purchase of overpriced IT equipment.

Sotto had previously maintained that Duque should be held accountable for the irregularities at PhilHealth given his position in the board.

Duque vehemently denied all allegations against him saying he was a non-voting chairman, meaning he did not sign any of the questionable decisions of the corporation.

Sotto, nevertheless, said this does not mean that Duque should have been completely hands off or oblivious to PhilHealth's affairs.

Meanwhile, Go bared that during a meeting on Wednesday evening, the President expressed inclination to give the newly appointed PhilHealth chief Dante Gierran until the end of the year to reform the agency.

Should Gierran fail to do so, the senator said Duterte will study the possibility of “disbanding” or “amending” the state-run health insurer.

The President called the meeting to discuss measures that would eliminate red tape and corruption in the government. Also present at the meeting were Sotto, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, and House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez.