Wednesday, August 19, 2020

PhilHealth mafia

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered Undersecretary Jesus Melchor Quitain to conduct the probe, the Palace said Friday.

A “mafia” involving the whole of Philippine Health Insurance Corp.'s executive committeee has stolen some P15 billion from the agency using different fraudulent schemes, resigned PhilHealth anti-fraud legal officer Thorrsson Montes Keith alleged during a Senate investigation on Tuesday, Aug. 4.

MalacaƱang is investigating the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation after a lawyer resigned from the agency, citing widespread corruption and other irregularities.

A whistleblower on Tuesday claimed that Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd was the “godfather” of the alleged mafia in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

Thorrsson Keith, the state insurer’s former anti-fraud officer, made the claim when he physically attended the resumption of the Senate investigation of alleged anomalies in PhilHealth.

Morales stressed that there’s no massive corruption in PhilHealth and challenged Keith to “come up with the evidence and file the case.”

Keith also opposed the PhilHealth contribution being imposed on overseas Filipino workers, but Morales said this is still being discussed in the government, particularly by a joint oversight congressional committee.

Sen. Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros said Duque must explain his alleged links and inaction on PhilHealth corruption.

“As Health Secretary and as Chairman of the PhilHealth board of directors, Secretary Duque cannot wash his hands of the corruption in PhilHealth and the billions of pesos in public health funds that have been abused and misused,” she said.

“He can’t say that he doesn’t know of any irregularities, because it is his duty to know and stop such things,” Hontiveros said

She noted that at a Senate hearing in August 2019, Dr. Roy Ferrer, former acting PhilHealth president, said that Duque knew about the so-called PhilHealth mafia supposedly exercising inordinate influence in the agency.

Another PhilHealth official, Senior Vice President Dennis Adre, also testified that he wrote a letter to Duque in February 2018, after the DoH secretary asked for advice on what measures may be taken “to deal with fraud in the agency.”

Amid the coronavirus crisis, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon questioned PhilHealth’s “overpriced” COVID-19 testing package, saying the government could lose ₱8 billion. PhilHealth later slashed the price, saying supply and demand have improved.

Several hospitals complained that PhilHealth owed them billions of pesos, but the agency's officials said this may be due to the denial of some claims due to lack of data and other requirements.

Phil​Health also figured in a “ghost” dialysis scam last year, where government funds were allegedly used for nonexistent kidney treatments. Duterte asked for the resignations of top PhilHealth officials following the insurance fraud scandal, which led to the hiring of Morales as its new chief.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Pastillas Scheme

In a Senate hearing that probed sex trafficking and prostitution rings linked to POGOs, Hontiveros showed a video and screenshots of Viber groups of immigration employees facilitating the entry of Chinese persons. The screenshots contained names, flight details, and photos of the arriving Chinese.

BI authorities said that it was the first time for them to hear of the systematic practice, which the senator said was called pastillas because payouts are rolled in bond paper. Now compensation is more sophisticated, with payouts placed in envelopes and free lunch provided by the Chinese.

A whistleblower on Thursday, February 20, said that majority of immigration officers are already part of the "pastillas scheme" or the modus in airports allowing Chinese workers of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) to enter the country seamlessly.

At the marathon hearings on POGO operations, Immigration Officer Allison Chiong said that he had personally witnessed the scheme which started when there was a "dramatic increase" in Chinese entering the Philippines sometime around 2017.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality which held an inquiry on the issue, revealed earlier this week that Chinese nationals pay ₱10,000 “service fee”, rolled in a bond paper like the wrapping of the milk-based candy, to have a special treatment as they enter the country.

“To cope with the substantial deduction of their salaries, some immigration officers decided to offer ‘VIP services’ for immigrants who are casino high-rollers,” said Chiong.

From the ₱10,000 paid by the Chinese nationals, only ₱2,000 goes to the immigration officers on the ground and the remaining P8,000 is split among the foreign tour operator, its partner in the country, and the syndicate running the corruption scheme in local airports.

“This VIP service involved immigration officers accepting Php 2,000.00 for each high-roller, in exchange for the latter's convenient and seamless immigration.” said Chong.

In a week, Chiong said that involved immigration officers assigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 receive around ₱20,000 while those in Terminal 3 receive ₱8,000.

Aside from money, Chiong noted that Chinese organizations and personalities also give free lunch meals to immigration officers.

Duterte on Thursday ordered the relief of all Immigration officials and employees believed to be involved in the “pastillas” operation. 19 have so far been put under floating status as BI continues its probe.

Commissioner Morente admitted he has limited authority in the appointment of division heads in the bureau.

The commissioner explained that it is the Justice Secretary who assigns the heads of divisions while he submits the shortlist of recommendations, as stated in the Philippine Immigration Law of 1940.

"I do not even have disciplinary powers... that 's why I am working for the passing of a new immigration law which would correct the system," said Morente.

Nevertheless, he said he already ordered an investigation into the incident as well as the firing of the personnel shown in Chiong's video.

Hontiveros said there is currently no sufficient evidence to tie Morente to the pastillas scheme. She added that her committee will also look into amending the immigration law.

The sacked employees "will most likely face cases," according to Panelo.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Trump impeachment

With the end of the impeachment trial now in sight and acquittal assured, a triumphant Mr. Trump emerges from the biggest test of his presidency emboldened, ready to claim exoneration and take his case of grievance, persecution and resentment to the campaign trail.

The president was impeached in December for abuse of power over pressure on US ally Ukraine to announce investigations that would have helped him politically, including into Joe Biden, a leading challenger for this year's presidential ballot.

Biden is among the candidates Monday in the Iowa caucuses that choose the state's Democratic nominee and mark the official start of election season.

The selection process in largely rural Iowa, coinciding with final impeachment arguments in Washington, will be closely watched as a sign as to which of 11 Democratic candidates are gaining early momentum to challenge Trump in November's election.

At only the third impeachment trial of a US president, Trump is all but assured of being acquitted Wednesday, the day after his annual "State of the Union" speech, which the president said will carry a "very, very positive message."

Republicans hold 53 seats in the Senate to 47 for the Democrats, but a two-thirds majority, or 67 senators, is needed to remove him from office.

A day before the first contest of the 2020 election, two days before Mr. Trump’s State of the Union address and three days before his expected acquittal, they and other Republicans appeared to be coalescing around a more nuanced argument: Mr. Trump’s efforts to push Ukraine into investigating a political rival while withholding critical military aid might not have been appropriate. But that did not warrant the president’s removal from office for the first time in American history.

Adam Schiff, the leader of the House prosecutors, known as impeachment managers, told CBS on Sunday that it was "pretty remarkable" that senators on both sides had acknowledged that Democrats proved their case against the president.

Mr. Alexander first took that position last week, when he announced that he would vote against the consideration of new witnesses and documents in Mr. Trump’s trial. He acknowledged the merits of the House case for removing the president on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress: that the president had withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats.

Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Joni Ernst on Sunday said Trump's behavior was troubling but not impeachable.

Alexander, of Tennessee, suggested Trump had been naive in asking a foreign ally to look into Biden and his son Hunter's business dealings in Ukraine, which Republicans have claimed without evidence were corrupt.

Then he added: "The bottom line: it's not an excuse. He shouldn't have done it."

But a senior administration official briefing reporters on Friday said the president will use his State of the Union address to celebrate “the great American comeback” and present “a vision of relentless optimism” encouraging Congress to work with him. Mr. Trump plans to pursue an agenda of cutting taxes again, bringing down prescription drug prices, completing his trade negotiations with China and further restricting immigration.
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