Press Release
August 20, 2020

Grace Poe's Interview Transcript Portions ANC Headstart w/ Karen Davila


Karen Davila: One thing that came out in that hearing, which was quite surprising especially for you, is during the 2004 elections, Plan Five Million was exposed. A senior official of PhilHealth claimed that Duque had ordered the distribution of five million PhilHealth cards to allegedly boost the campaign of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Your father, FPJ, was running against GMA at that time and this PhilHealth official said it was the first time that PhilHealth lost billions of pesos because many couldn't essentially pay for the premium of those free PhilHealth cards.

Sen. Grace Poe: Yes, actually, just the meaning of the program that they had, the five. They referred to five because of the five million apparent lead of FPJ in the surveys. Apparently, one of the resource persons, as I mentioned, Mr. Adre, called the attention of Secretary Duque but instead of listening to him, Secretary Duque reassigned him somewhere else or in fact reprimanded him. What Mr. Adre was telling Secretary Duque was that 'We just can't pick and choose where we're supposed to distribute these cards; everyone is entitled to this fairly, or at least we should distribute it equally to all provinces,' but that was not the case. Obviously, it was targeted per political area for them. This is not actually new, this has been exposed. The PhilHealth cards were used as leverage in the 2004 elections. Now, Karen, even if it was my father who was involved, of course it is sad and tragic, personally. But I think we should learn from this moving forward. And other institutions in government should not be involved when it comes to elections or electioneering because, as you see, until now we are still paying for that mistake. From that one misstep or huge mistake, until now, PhilHealth is still in the red because from the very beginning, in 2004, they couldn't pay for those services that were incurred in the different hospitals. And now, as you see, a lot of hospitals aren't being paid again because of this pandemic, but they have P200 billion in savings somewhere, cash that they could already use to reimburse. Mabagal talaga at ang nahihirapan 'yung mga healthcare workers natin, mga frontliners at mga pasyente, especially. Do you know that until now, doctors who are working in several hospitals have to source their own PPEs because DOH is not providing them in a timely manner, at least with the right number of PPEs, so that's very basic. And when it comes to contact tracing, healthcare providers themselves asked already for a return to ECQ, which we did because they were already burdened. It was not even a call from DOH but private physicians and private hospitals that called for it, even public hospitals, but not the DOH or PhilHealth in particular. So, in short, we did that and hopefully that gave leverage when it comes to government response, but Mayor Magalong has said when it comes to contact tracing we are still not doing what we should be doing. The ratio before the lockdown was one is to four, meaning for every one person, you should be able to trace at least a certain number of people that he mingled with. During the lockdown, it became one is to five. We are still far away from the goal of one is to 37. Can you imagine now that we are easing up and we are opening up again, I hope that they are doing what they need to do, which are contact tracing, testing, isolation and treatment.

Davila: Okay, but hold that thought first. Let's go back to Plan Five Million, Malacañang came to Secretary Duque's defense last night on these cards. Secretary Roque came out and said that Duque was already investigated by no less than former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and Duque was cleared. And Roque said Duque has no liability whatsoever on those cards.

Poe: Maybe he has no legal liability but he has moral liability. He knew very well that it wasn't right, but of course he can always say, "I was just following orders." So, okay he doesn't have to, I mean, the courts found him innocent of that deed, but whistleblowers themselves have said that that began the ruin of PhilHealth, and now we are still suffering from that, the type of organization that he allowed in PhilHealth to thrive. Those who were actually corrupt or had cases were promoted or assigned to a better post, while those who contradicted their policies, the policies that were not right were reassigned to places that were not a perfect fit for them.


Davila: Still on PhilHealth, we will talk about Bayanihan Two later, Cong. Stella Quimbo had a very unique suggestion yesterday which was to privatize PhilHealth. Is that possible Senator Grace, do you think that's an option?

Poe: You know, actually I've thought about it. Yes, in a way this is something that we can probably explore. I think that the private sector has done better in managing businesses. In fact, we've seen that when the government took over the MRT, it's actually been at a sorry state compared to the others that were ran by the private sector. But, of course, before you grant those things you have to make sure that there are safeguards so that our countrymen will not be shortchanged by the policies that they will do or increase the rates drastically. These things can be explored, but right now, what we really need is, at least given the chance, a change in the leadership. Palitan muna ang namumuno, tingnan natin may pagkakataon pa naman yata basta lamang umaksyon na tayo kaagad.


Davila: On the additional P162 billion funding to the government's Covid-19 response, the measure includes the procurement of testing kits, assistance for displaced workers, and capital infusion for micro, small, and medium enterprises. Senate President Vicente Sotto meanwhile wants to ensure funding for the Tourism Department's recovery plans remains intact in the final version of the bill. Alright, welcome back, still with us on second half of Hot Copy, Sen. Grace Poe. Senator Grace, there's a possibility, first of all, that Bayanihan Two maybe ratified today, is that correct?

Poe: Well, in the Senate, yes, we may be able to ratify today. We still have another Bicam hearing actually a few hours after this and hopefully we can come to an agreement.

Davila: The last that I've heard is you've both agreed on P140 billion readily available and P22 billion as a standby fund. Many sectors have been slashed, what's the latest so far, Senator Grace, for example, the transport sector? Is that correct that the original was to support the transport sector with P17 billion, it's down to P6 billion?

Poe: Karen, I'm not going to give specific amounts yet in deference also to the members of the Bicam panel. But this is what I can tell you, what we've agreed so far when it comes to Department of Transportation: That there will be support for displaced workers in the transport sector particularly when it comes to contracting vehicles by the government. So that will be a big portion. There will also be funding for bike lanes and also when it comes to the transportation sector, there will also be cash assistance for the drivers but it might be channelled through the Department of Labor and Employment. And fuel vouchers for the drivers, but more than that, there are also provisions there that may not be financial but it will also allow, for example, the aviation sector to issue vouchers instead of a full refund at this time to help them. They will also be allowed to avail of a loan from government financial institutions to tide them through. So these are few provisions that we have at least for the transportation sector, but there are many others all across the different departments of government.

Davila: I know that one of the things that you put is the no phaseout of old jeepneys, tama ba ito, Senator?

Poe: Yes. Lalung-lalo na ngayon, Karen, marami sa ating mga kababayan ang walang hanapbuhay at kailangan din natin ang transportasyon. Bago pa nga itong pandemya na ito, kulang na ang masasakyan ng ating mga kababayan, so ang aming panukala ay wala munang phaseout ng mga traditional jeep natin basta lamang ang importante ito ay roadworthy, ibig sabihin, safe. Tapos hindi naman smoke belcher 'yung mga jeep na 'yun. In fact, there are others who are saying that it's safer to ride a jeep kasi nga open air as opposed doon sa iba na contained talaga, 'yung recycled air 'yung hinihinga nila kaya isa 'yan sa mga bagay na itinutulak natin. Apparently, the 400,000 beneficiaries, the ones who were supposedly qualified to receive assistance from the government have not received any cash assistance since the beginning of this lockdown. In fact, only 10 percent of them did. That's why you see a lot of them are begging on the streets. Maraming namamalimos kasi nga hindi nakakarating ang tulong sa kanila. So 'di ba marami nga sa kanila namamalimos dahil nga walang hanapbuhay at hindi nakarating sa kanila ang ayuda dahil ang listahan ng LTFRB na isinusumite sa DSWD ay hindi agarang nako-cross check, so nalulunod na naman sa bureacracy ng gobyerno.

Davila: So for the transport sector, would you have the number, Senator Grace, of just how many can be covered with this fund?

Poe: The funds are really limited right now and in fact, we would like to give more. As much as I'd like to say everybody will be covered, unfortunately, that is not going to be the reality. That is why we are advocating that more drivers should be able to ply their routes. They should be able to work because at this point, government, even if we wanted to, cannot possibly cover everyone.

Davila: I'm curious, 'yung apela po ninyo na no phaseout of old jeepneys basta roadworthy, do you have the support of the House version, too? Palagay ninyo, papasa po ito?

Poe: Yes, it's not in question in Bicam, so it stays, as of now. And in fact, I have the support of all of my colleagues when it comes to that because they've seen the need of transportation and livelihood at the same time.

Davila: Clearly, the funds are limited and senators I've interviewed have said that it's not enough. Do you believe that the government should borrow? There's the thinking that we should borrow. And of course the government being conservative enough, our economic managers don't want to borrow.

Poe: As much as possible, if there's funding in government, we shouldn't borrow. And the important thing is we use wisely our limited resources. But when you hear stories about it being corrupted in other departments, of course, you're crestfallen. You feel like you really want to do more, but because it is so mismanaged that, in fact, in our deliberation in Bayanihan we are apprehensive in entrusting money again to the Department of Health. Number one, they have money lying around, which they haven't really distributed. Number two, we know that the management is bad. On the other hand, if we really need to, of course, kung may sakit ka at wala ka nang pambayad mapipilitan ka naman talagang humiram. Pero hangga't kaya mo pa, hangga't kaya mo pang gastusin kung anong meron ka, 'yun muna ang unahin mo. At saka 'yung tamang pagtitipid, hindi naman 'yung maling pagtitipid. With the Bayanihan, not only are we allotting what you asked me about on transportation, but the important things and I think this is more thorough than Bayanihan One. Bayanihan Two, right now, we've allotted for contact tracing, also for quarantine facilities. And aside from that, the continued cash assistance for those that are affected and many others, even for the tourism sector we are hoping and even agriculture, infrastructure. All these will receive the assistance needed, hopefully, from the government.

Davila: I know that the Department of Health, one contentious part is, the Department of Health, I think is asking for P10 billion to be given to the PhilHealth for testing, what's the latest there?

Poe: There will be money for testing until we come up with the final ratification at least on the Senate part of the Bayanihan...

Davila: But do you want money to be given for PhilHealth, are you for that? Do you still want P10 billion to be directed to PhilHealth?

Poe: You know, unfortunately, it is the agency that is supposedly tasked to do this. On the other hand, what we've done also, it's like some sort of safeguard. For example, when it comes to contact tracing, instead of giving this to the Department of Health, this is now going to be channelled to the DILG in cooperation with the local government units. Because as we've seen the first responders are really the local government and not just through the DILG but the local mayors, the governors, they were the ones that rolled out the program even without the guidelines from the national government. Now, when it comes to PhilHealth of course they're still going to get some sort of fund, that is really earmarked for a specific program, like for example, hiring extra healthworkers that's through the Department of Health. That is a big portion also of the budget, but at least we know for sure that this will be going to the much needed help in our health sector. And then we also mandated that they should receive, that the frontline healthworkers should receive their money, I think, monthly that it should not be less than P10,000 for the risk that they are undertaking. This is just in addition to the actual pay that they are going to be receiving.

Davila: Okay. It's still there that the largest portion of P140 is still going to the MSMEs, correct? It's down to, I think you've said, said to P45 billion in an interview yesterday.

Poe: Yes, as we are taking care of the health of our countrymen, obviously there is also the economic aspect, the livelihood of most of them. But the reality is if businesses don't survive then employment won't be possible. We have added capital to the Land Bank and the DBP precisely so that they can loan out money for MSMEs as well as businesses that are impacted by Covid-19 that is crucial to the economy. So both the Land Bank and the DBP will take the lead when it comes to infusing capital also to the many industries that have been affected especially the downstream industries as well.

Davila: Are you seeing after Bayanihan Two, we do know, Senator Grace that even in the Senate there have been versions of a larger stimulus package, there's been one of P1 trillion, there is P700 billion, are you seeing after Bayanihan Two, another tranche?

Poe: Well, right now after the Bayanihan Two, we will be tackling the budget. So when it comes to that we can see where we are deficient, where we need to infuse more funding and that will be reviewed extensively because it will be per department that will attend the hearing in the Senate to present their expenditures. So it may not be another Bayanihan but certainly the budget for the coming year should be responsive to the deficiencies that we see.


Davila: Okay, just very quickly before we go, building health capacity, are you satisfied? Two weeks, we did a timeout, nag-MECQ tayo, ngayon naka-GCQ na tayo. Was is worth it that we did MECQ and do you believe that there were improvements in our health capacity, in building our health capacity in the last few weeks?

Poe: I think it was the right decision to listen to our healthcare professionals. Our facilities, our healthcare facilities were already full and then a lot of our frontline workers were exhausted. So they needed a break and they appealed and I'm glad that they were heeded. On the other hand, as pointed out by Mayor Magalong, he was saying that we weren't able to maximize the timeframe for very important things like contact tracing. So I think that even if we are not on lockdown now, we should really continue those efforts for mass testing, contact tracing, isolation, and treatment. They should go hand in hand as we continue to revive the economy. We cannot choose one or the other, but you cannot have a driving economy, there won't be any supply if there's no demand. And there won't be any demand if people are sick and they are not going out. So they need to be treated, we need to really prevent another outbreak of large proportion that we've seen prior to the recent lockdown.


Davila: Before we go, I'd like to note that today is the 81st birthday or it would have been the 81st birthday of your late father, FPJ. How are you remembering a great icon in the industry today, your father? What are your plans with Ma'am Susan Roces, your mom?

Poe: If there's anything, what really inspires me about my Dad is the compassion that he had, not only for his family but his co-workers and complete strangers. It was really in his nature to help. And I think during this pandemic the memory of my Dad is something that I'd like to keep alive and we've been doing that. In fact, today we will be distributing tablets for students in Quezon City, in one public high school, in memory of my Dad. But, Karen that the timing also of bringing up of this issue on PhilHealth about 2004, I think it's also a reminder of, maybe, the reason why FPJ ran in the first place; the systemic problem that we have in our institutions, how it is being abused to the detriment of our countrymen that should have been receiving the proper benefits from the government. I think that our people are really determined to get out of this crisis and the missing formula is the proper government response. So, I think this government should march in lockstep with the determination of our countrymen to get out of this crisis.

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