Editorial: PhilHealth mess and poverty vow

·3 min read

“ABSOLUTELY unfair and unjust” was how Sister Zeta Caridad Rivero, head of Perpetual Succour Hospital (PSH) in Cebu City, summed up, in an Aug. 31 letter to SunStar, the dragging of its name to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) scandal, which involves fraudulent payment of claims to hospitals and patients by the state health insurance company.

Sister Rivero’s sentiment must have stayed or grown stronger, following the filing of a fraud complaint by the NBI 7 with the Ombudsman last Friday, Oct. 30.

Spotlight on the PhilHealth mess expanded last year to include the Cebu hospital, along with three hospitals in Davao City, when the Senate opened its inquiry into the suspected anomaly that has filched an estimated P15 billion in public funds. Some specifics:

[1] In the 2019 Senate hearing, Sen. Panfilo Lacson used the PSH case -- of alleged conspiracy with the PhilHealth board of directors to negate a Court of Appeals (CA) ruling -- to show the stink in the state insurance company.

[2] On Aug. 29, 2019, Harry Roque, who at the time had quit as presidential spokesman, filed a lawsuit for allegedly defrauding the government against past and incumbent PhilHealth directors and the Cebu hospital as a corporate body. Roque also cited the same PhilHealth reversal of the CA ruling.

[3] In August this year, as the Senate resumed its PhilHealth hearings, lawmakers dug up more facts about the scandal, leading to the resignation of at least two top officials.

A witness testified to the PSH suspension case, resurrecting the CA ruling fiasco.

Those were accusations made in Congress and to the public.

What the NBI filed last week before the Ombudsman was an “up-casing” before an anti-graft investigative agency, which could lead to administrative penalties on PhilHealth officials and criminal charges before Sandiganbayan, the anti-graft court. Four PSH people, including its financial chief manager, a nun who belongs to the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres Congregation, are among the respondents.

Sister Rivero, in her letter to SunStar, denied the accusation of having taken part in the fraud. The hospital lawyer, responding last week to the NBI complaint, wondered how the hospital staff could be charged and yet the doctors who diagnosed the patient were not.

Those are matters the Ombudsman and the court, if the case is raised to the Sandiganbayan, will resolve.

By this time though, the hospital’s owners and manager must have shed off their surprise why their hospital is “dragged” to the PhilHealth mess.

The hospital is engaged in business. It deals with the government and government people are suspected of stealing public money in the transaction with the hospital.

The congregation’s piety and vow of poverty may have little force to support in the litigation the respondent hospital’s innocence.

The private hospital and St. Paul sisters, like other secular persons and entities indicted in our judicial system, may rely only on how the state evidence and their defense will stand up in the court -- and whether the public will find it credible.