Press Release
September 3, 2020

Transcript of interview of Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III with
Pinky Webb of The Source on CNN Philippines

On PhilHealth

Q: The recommendation is to file criminal charges against 8 officials that includes health secretary Francisco Duque over malversation of public funds on the issue of the IRM and other issues. You have Sec. Duque who claims ignorance. Can you expound on this further, what could be Sec. Duque's culpability?

SP Sotto: That's correct. If you say that you have nothing to do with the board resolutions or you did not sign, understandable that you did not sign because you are not supposed to vote. In the Universal Health Care law, the chairman is not supposed to vote. That is one of the things that we have to remove by the way because there are 13 members and then the chairman is the secretary of health. The chairman leads the agenda and direction of the board and then you will not vote. So for many months, releases of P14.8 billion and the chairman of the board is not aware? If you say that then you are practically admitting guilt to Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code because you are negligent and that falls under the category of malversation especially with that kind of amount. Our findings prove that our recommendations are correct and even after a number of interpellations last night, those who were tentative about the participation of Sec. Duque I think their fears were allayed. And by the way the recommendations of the Committee of the Whole report is not confined to just 8 officials. Those were the named officials, but you will notice in the main committee report, we are saying that it must include, the Department of Justice and the Ombudsman when they investigate, must include all officials and employees who connived and participated in the transactions. We are talking here of 632 transactions so if you were negligent for one, you that is 632 counts of negligence.

Q: And the 632 you are talking about the IRM here, the disbursements that happened from the months of March to June?

SP Sotto: March, April, May, and it only became shall we say legal by June 11. That was the only time that they (unclear) and submit to the Office of the National Administrative Register of the UP Law Center and that was a requirement not only of their board but of the procedures. And therefore, they were releasing billions of the people's money from March up to June illegally and they admit to that. As a matter of fact, their legal officer admitted that it was illegal.

Q: And we are talking about that transaction, yung P14.8 billion from March to June and then the resolution was actually signed in June.

SP Sotto: The resolution, they came up with a board resolution after they have already started transacting or giving advance money to the HCIs the IRM. Again, let us go back to the context first. IRM supposed to be s reimbursement and it was the original idea during the time pa of Sec. Padilla, Alex Padilla president ng PhilHealth, because of Ondoy. They were trying to reimburse the HCIs or the health care institutions that were affected by Ondoy. Mga floods, mga ganyan, and then also Marawi, and also Tagaytay. The IRM was used, it is a reimbursement mechanism, note, reimbursement. PhilHealth is an insurance corporation, why will you advance the insurance? Why will you advance the reimbursement when there is no reimbursement yet, like for example, there is a hospital that they gave I think more than a P100 million and the claim now is only around P5 million, so what do we do with this? Knowing that the people, this is the people's money. They sign up for PhilHealth, they line up for hospitals, hirap na hirap sila, hindi sila makapag hospital, at inaasahan lang nila ang PhilHealth pagkatapos malalaman nila na bilyon-bilyon sa mga pera ng PhilHealth ay gagamitin sa ganoon, it is unforgiveable. That is why we say that even in this pandemic na dapat daw ay hintayin na muna naming yung pandemic saka raw yan, hindi eh. We will be unforgiven also, the Senate will be unforgiven if we know that it is happening and we will not do anything about it. That is what we call the Executive Department to look into.

Q: And when you actually talk about the R in the IRM, ang tawag nga po doon ay reimbursement but what is happening is an advance payment although I understand of course that the PhilHealth officials had explained the wisdom behind this. I want to go back to what you earlier said, because there were a few senators who in the beginning were not too convinced about Sec. Duque's criminal negligence on this issue. Are they now convinced about the issue on Sec. Duque?

SP Sotto: I think so because we fully discussed it yesterday. As a matter of fact, it was Sen. Pimentel who was interpellating me and Sen. Lacson was also interjecting and we explained that as chairman of the board you lead and you direct the board. In Republic Act 7875 by the way, the National Health Insurance Act, the PhilHealth shall be governed, maliwanag na maliwanag, governed by a board of directors eh ang chairman ng board of directors, si Sec. Duque. Now, when you say govern, govern is synonymous to rule, control, regulate, direct, and dictate. So how can you say that you don't know what is happening and the board does not know what is happening? Now, also in the PhilHealth law, PhilHealth is an attached agency of the Department of Health for policy coordinator and guidance and the administrative code of the Philippines, very clear, the secretary shall have supervision and control over the bureau's offices and agencies under him. Hindi pwedeng ikaila, kaya nga as I said it definitely the findings of the committee I think are very clear, it is impossible to say that it is baseless. We are basing it on law, it is so clear. Maliwanag eh at saka maliwanag din yung mga illegal na ginawa. What do you mean baseless? How can it be baseless, so these recommendations are given, and as a matter of fact, after that, we terminated the period of interpellation, there was no objection from Sen. Lacson, Sen. Pimentel or Sen. Gordon, even the Minority Leader, the Minority Leader interpellated also, Sen. Frank Drilon who is the expert in justice and law in the Senate. So he himself agrees to the findings of the committee.

Q: The Senate Committee of the Whole is actually recommending to the President to appoint a new health secretary. With this recent finding from the Senate, do you think that this will probably convince the President to replace Sec. Duque?

SP Sotto: Well, according to the Palace spokesman, Sec. Duque still has the trust and confidence of the President. That is the opinion of the President, but one thing is that I have submitted to Executive Secretary Medialdea the findings, the complete copy of the report, the Committee of the Whole findings report. We submitted it to them, so I am sure he will be able to brief the President on our findings.

Q: When you submitted this to the Executive Secretary, did you even have the chance to speak to him?

SP Sotto: No, not yet. As a matter of fact, we also submitted a copy already to the Department of Justice, the Ombudsman, and president and PCEO Dante Gierran. He was on the phone with me and he said that he is very glad that we gave him a copy because it will be a good guide for him to try to ferret out other issues in the PhilHealth that has not been covered by the committee. There are issues that we have not been able to cover, I admit that.

Q: I am asking you if you think that the President will have a change of heart with Sec. Duque with this finding, because when you previously asked the secretary to resign and then this committee report, my question I guess id what if, yung inyong findings is not similar or is different from the finding of the DOJ?

SP Sotto: I really doubt it but to answer your question, then I don't think the people, the Filipino people who are monitoring this will be satisfied. I am so sure that they are so agitated and irritated and angry at the way the money of the PhilHealth has been spent. And the way things are running, you know, for example, they will say na how can we change somebody like Sec. Duque we are in the middle of the pandemic. Akala ko ba hindi ba pag nagsabi ang (unclear) na hindi dawn aka ready ang administration, sinasabi ng administration there are already plans, there are programs in place, naka set up na lahat. So hindi totoong sabihin na pagka pinalitan yung kung let's say yung buong PhilHealth na officialdom is tainted, ibig sabihin kahit na tainted, hahayaan natin dahil hindi kayo nakahanda sa mga programa at plano? I don't think that is true.

Q: Ano po ba yung nangyari na sinasabi ni Pangulo na whiff of corruption?

SP Sotto: Yun, that is another thing. We have heard him before, he has said it. Just a whiff of corruption, sisibakin niya, di ba? Ito, hindi ito whiff, dokumentado ito. Dokumentado ang corruption. It is unexplainable. For example, go back to the IRM. Bale na yung mali ang withholding tax, mga kung anun-ano, ang dami pang ibang findings naming na nakita roon, dokumentado na. But ito ang pinaka malala sa lahat, like for example, ang proposal ng PhilHealth originally sa study na ginawa, ang magagamit nila for 2020 for Covid at hindi doon sa reimbursement na original, is P3.3 billion. Yun ang sinasabing magagamit. P3.3 billion is mind-boggling, billions, hindi ko makikita pa kung paano bilangin ang billions. So P3.3 billion. Ang inallot nila na budget is P28 billion and from March to before June, P14.8 billion na ang nadistribute. Paano mo maeeksplika yun? Merong isang hospital na isa lang ang Covid patient, binigyan mo ng P200 million. Merong hospital P168 million yata yun, P138 million yung binigay mo, isa lang ang Covid patient. There are other hospitals that have been begging them for help. Meron sa Iloilo, meron sa Region 6, meron sa Region 8, meron sa Bicol, begging them, even here sa Luzon pero hindi nakakarating pero yung nagrerequest sa kanila, all of a sudden, in seven days naka release. Milyon-milyon nakarelease in seven days. How can you say that there is no (unclear)?

Q: What do you think because the House committee is looking at possibly granting the President emergency powers to address this PhilHealth issue. Is this something the President needs?

SP Sotto: I do not know what is incorporated or included in their proposal, to give the President emergency powers on what the President can do and what kind of emergency powers they would give because as far as we are concerned, most of us in the Senate is concerned, we know that in this part of the globe, the President of the Philippines is the most powerful president. Mas powerful tayo kay Widodo at kung anu-ano yung powers ng Presidente sa Pilipinas. So anything that they would want the President to do he can do now, even without the emergency powers, that is what we believe, so we would rather look at what their proposal is, anong klaseng emergency powers ang ibibigay pa, idadagdag mo, na hindi niya kayang gawin ngayon. Kung meron tayong makikita na hindi niya kayang gawin ngayon in order to let's say revamp, reorganize or whatever he can do sa PhilHealth, then yes, by all means, let's give it to him pero kung nandoon naman sa mga powers niya, bakit pa?

Q: US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton has been ordered released by the Olongapo court after serving more than 10 years of his sentence. However, this actually includes what is called GCTA something that is very controversial, tiningnan ito at inimbestigahan ng Senado. Yung computation kasi, umabot na siya ng more than 10 years but halos kalahati noon ay GCTA. Do you agree and who is actually to monitor his good behavior in his detention center in Camp Aguinaldo?

SP Sotto: I will not be in a capacity to answer that question but what I can say because I do not know how he is being treated, and hid confinement, we are not sure about that, the only thing I can say about it is that it is a good thing that the Blue Ribbon Committee of the Senate has not ended the hearing on the GCTA, if you will recall. That is the reason that Sen. Gordon has had difficulties with the hearings because of the lack of number of cases being investigated by the Blue Ribbon, but that is one of it. GCTA, suspended pa lang yung hearing niyan so I am sure we can take it up. That will be a good resort to be able to find out if it is correct but then ang titingnan natin ditto ay kung ano ang pwede nating magawa in aid of legislation thereafter, because meron tayong separation of powers with the judiciary, yun lang.

Q: Should the issue of revolutionary government be discussed publicly gaya ng sinabi ni Pangulong Duterte?

SP Sotto: I haven't given it a thought but gain, the question is why? Why, is something wrong? Sabi nga nung mga Amrikano, why fix it if it ain't broke? Broken nga dapat.

Q: Do you suspect what is behind this revolutionary government?

SP Sotto: No, I have no idea on who would be behind it but I don't see the reason why, you know, as far as democracy is concerned, it is in place in the Philippines. May mga reklamo pero ganoon lang yun. Look at the constitution, it is alright. Perhaps what we need would be amendments to the constitution, one or two points especially on the economic issues, siguro ganoon. Pero if you are talking of a revolutionary government, why? To change it into a federal form of government? Aba'y pinag aralan naming yung sa aming partido, yung federalism, maganda but it will take you about 10 years of transition period to be able to do that. It should have been done in 1987 when we were formulating the new constitution. Right now madaling sabihin, mahirap gawin. Napakahirap gawin, we have had seminars.

Q: On the blacklisting of Chinese companies by the United States, Sec. Locsin said that he would strongly recommend this among Chinese companies here in the Philippines who may be involved in the reclamation or militarization in the South China Sea. Do you agree na dapat may sanctions or iblacklist itong mga Chinese companies?

SP Sotto: Yes. When it comes to the issue of foreign relations, Sec. Teddy Boy Locsin would be the expert, would be the perennial expert and therefor whatever he says, I would support. I am not an expert on this.

Q: Even if the President said itutuloy daw itong mga Chinese companies na may kontrata dito sa Pilipinas? Ang sabi ni Sec. Locsin he will strongly (unclear) basta't may kinalaman sa reclamation sa South China Sea, ang kanyang recommendation is to end this contract. You agree with him?

SP Sotto: Yes, I agree. Tama yun, kung may kinalaman ka sa pangangamkam, sabi nga sa Pilipino, may kinalaman ka sa pangangamkam sa amin, bakit ka susuportahan? I agree with Sec. Locsin.

Q: The House passed a bill proposing to declare September 11 as President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos Day in Ilocos Norte. Is this something that you would support?

SP Sotto: A bill of local application when it comes to the Senate, usually is not really debated upon. It is a bill of local application, it is for Ilocos Norte, I doubt if there will be objections to that. If it is nationwide, baka magkakaroon ng objection yan, medyo mahihirapan yan. For us it is not a matter of whether we are going to support it or not, usually, bills of local application breeze through the Senate unless one or two objects.

Q: Would you object?

SP Sotto: No, I won't. It is a bill of local application, it is in Ilocos Norte, as far as Ilocos Norte is concerned, President Marcos was the past president, he has done a lot for Ilocos Norte, so I will not be surprised if Ilocos Norte agrees.

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