A doctor-businessman with ties to President Rodrigo Duterte could be the next chief of state-owned Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth), whose top executives have been ordered to resign in the wake of a dialysis scandal.
Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo told reporters yesterday that Duterte was considering Jaime Cruz as PhilHealth president Roy Ferrer’s replacement.
Cruz had yet to accept the offer, Panelo added.
Malacanang was unable to provide more details about Cruz, but reports identified him as the president of the JTC Group of Companies that owns the Dohtonburi restaurant chain, among others.
A Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism report earlier this year also tagged Cruz as one of several businessmen, who had partnered with the Duterte family in a number of business ventures.
Cruz was not immediately available for comment.
Panelo, who a day earlier said Ferrer continued to enjoy the president’s confidence, announced that Duterte had asked all incumbent PhilHealth officials to resign.
This shows “zero tolerance on corruption under this administration,” the Palace spokesman added.
“There will be an in-depth study on how the frauds are systematically committed by unscrupulous persons in and out of PhilHealth. There will be criminal prosecutions of all those involved. No one will be spared.”
A clean slate was needed at PhilHealth, he claimed, given the looming implementation of the recently signed Universal Health Care Law.
Duterte could still reappoint the sacked PhilHealth officials if an investigation clears them of involvement in an alleged fund mess, Panelo said.
“He mentioned something about giving them new positions or reappointing them, whatever. The president, of course, is tentative; the report is not yet with us,” he said.
Philhealth allegedly lost some P154bn since 2013 due to overpayments and fraud, a newspaper claimed last week. Panelo disputed this, saying the amount involved was around P300mn.
“I think it’s better for us to wait for the full-scale investigation of the National Bureau of Investigation(NBI), so we will not be speculating or guessing,” he said.
In a related development, Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday urged Malacanang to go after those involved in PhilHealth fund irregularities.
“Corrective and punitive [action] should be the order of the day,” he said in a text message.
“Considering such humongous amount of money squandered either deliberately or through sheer negligence, Malacanang cannot simply ‘call it quits’ and just let go,”
Lacson added. “Otherwise, whoever will be appointed to replace those who were asked to resign may just treat PhilHealth funds as ‘business as usual.’”
Outgoing Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th, meanwhile, said the PhilHealth fund mess showed that Duterte’s much-touted anti-corruption drive was nonexistent.
“There’s no anti-corruption drive. There’s still corruption,” he said in a press briefing.
“Some are found out, some are not. Those who are not found out continue to be happy.”
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