Press Release
October 22, 2006

No Philhealth card distribution during 2007
election campaign period, Duque assures Drilon

To avoid a repeat of allegations that Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) cards were being used for electioneering purposes, the Department of Health (DOH) has agreed to suspend its issuance for 90 days, during the campaign period of the May 2007 elections, Senate Finance Committee Chief Franklin Drilon said.

Appearing before the Senate Committee to defend the proposed P16.8 billion DOH budget for next year, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said he agreed with the suggestion of Drilon and Sen. Edgardo Angara that measures must be undertaken to avoid a repetition of charges that the distribution of Philhealth cards were used to boost the campaign of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during the May 2004 elections.

During the hearing, Drilon said he would propose the insertion of a special provision in the General Appropriations Act of 2007 (GAA) that will set a moratorium on the distribution of Philhealth cards three months before the holding of next year's midterm elections.

"We must make sure that this Philhealth system will not be tainted again with criticisms that it is being used for political purposes because that will be very unfortunate," Drilon told Duque during the hearing.

Duque replied that he was amenable with the suggestion but added that the Philhealth cannot be stopped from processing the Philhealth application forms.

"We cannot tell the people, 'you can't get sick during elections,'" Duque said. He proposed that the Philhealth Office can continue to process the application forms but suspend the distribution of the cards during the election campaign period.

"Probably what we can do is, your honors, if there are Philhealth cards that will expire by December or January, we can extend the coverage of the holders up to after the elections so they can continue to enjoy the benefits," Duque added.

Drilon explained that the Philhealth program was a very laudable government project that should not be politicized or used for political purposes.

He noted that Philhealth was part of the government's advocacy to extend health care services for the millions of poor Filipinos.

"Philhealth is indeed a very laudable project," Drilon said. "If implemented properly it can benefit millions of poor Filipino families who can now avail themselves of their basic right to health care and attention which they could not afford but certainly fully deserve from the government."

"It's about time that we insulate Philhealth from the dirty game of politics," Drilon said.

It will be recalled that critics of President Arroyo accused her of allegedly using the Philhealth cards for political purposes during the elections. Testifying before the Citizens' Congress for Truth and Accountability forum earlier this year, former social welfare secretary Dinky Soliman confessed to being part of a government group that used public funds for President Arroyo's 2004 presidential campaign.

Soliman said she helped distribute free insurance Philhealth cards to voters in areas considered strongholds of Arroyo's rivals, among them movie actor Fernando Poe Jr., during the 2004 campaign.

Government critics said money coming from the Overseas Workers' Welfare Administration (OWWA) was diverted to pay for the Philhealth cards. Philhealth card holders are supposed to pay insurance premiums of around P1,000, but during the campaign, voters got them for free, the critics added.

Duque, who was Philhealth president during the 2004 campaign, denied Soliman's claim that the Philhealth cards were used for the Arroyo campaign.

During the Senate hearing, Duque said Philhealth was seeking a P3.5 bilion allocation for the health insurance program which was targeting to enroll a total of 20 million beneficiaries this year

Duque explained Philhealth cards were already being distributed as early as 2001 and such distribution has continued up to present. He added that at least two million health cards have been distributed to Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

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