A breath of fresh air

By September 7, 2021Punchline

By Ermin Garcia Jr.


THE filing of the cases against PhilHealth officers and employees in both national and regional offices with the Ombudsman by the NBI Dagupan District comes as a breath of fresh air even as we wear face masks and face shields!

It’s the development that the country has been waiting for this year. So far, it’s been all talks of consequences of the misuse of COVID-19 funds, not of the criminal conspiracy between some PhilHealth officers and employees and owners/directors/doctors of hospitals. Many already began entertaining the thought that senior officials and select operations personnel involved in the agency’s scam will never be made to account, as in past fund scandals.

Fortunately, the investigation did not stop at the House of Representatives and the Senate where allegations are discussed, then buried to be forgotten.

Hopefully, this filing of cases about PhilHealth operations in Region 1 will trigger the filing of cases in other regions. Given the commonality of circumstances and operations, there is no doubt a syndicate inside PhilHealth employed the same scheme, assuring hospitals that the process is already seamless. It was seamless until then.

Fortunately, the transactions and processes uniformly established and recorded under the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM) cannot possibly cover up all transactions. Not even an intentional office fire can erase the anomalous transactions because digital encoding is paperless!

The time for accountability is here!

The NBI-Dagupan District under Agent Rizaldy Jaymalin made history! Take a bow guys!! You broke the scandalous systematic siphoning of billions intended for COVID patients!

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BREAKTHROUGH. Perusing the complaint filed with the Ombudsman, there was an intricate web of operations from top to bottom obviously established to facilitate fake claims. I can imagine how much it took over the months to make everyone happy – from PhilHealth’s operators to the hospital owners and doctors who filed the alleged fake claims.

 What is not in the report were the amounts delivered to each hospital. Suffice it to say, P72-M were paid out to hospitals’ claims out of the P27-B appropriated by the PhilHealth Board for IRM!

 It appears the breakthrough in the investigation happened when the claims of Bacarra Medical Center in Ilocos Norte were studied.

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TOTAL LOCKDOWNS NEVER THE SOLUTION. The move of Gov. Pogi Espino to seek the downgrade of the quarantine category in Pangasinan is worthy of note. And I hope it will be granted by the national IATF soon.

The downgrading to General Community Quarantine is the provincial government’s only way to communicate to towns and cities that all’s not well, and heightened restrictions must return!

However, I note with concern that mayors are inclined to simply follow the lead of the Metro Manila local governments – to impose a total lockdown! The danger lies in the fact that the lockdowns in the National Capitol Region were not at all effective.

The NCR towns simply went through the motions of “restricting” movements of people without really understanding how to implement it for results – to cut transmission.

The “lockdowns” in NCR not only forgot the basics – wearing of face masks and keeping social distancing under all circumstances – and failed all because the local governments did not bother to establish the infrastructure to support it.

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NO EFFECTIVE LOCKDOWNS HERE. There was only one known effective lockdown that was implemented in the world – the lockdowns of cities in China! A lockdown involves keeping families in their homes 24/7, no exemptions!  To do that, government had to provide regular meals and medical services delivered to their homes. Violators were promptly charged and detained for the duration of the lockdown. Result – Cities with 10-M population were COVID-free in 2 weeks

None of these were seen in NCR during the first and second lockdowns. Worse, residents who were told to stay in the barangays freely gathered in corners in violation of the distancing protocol, some without face masks. The observance and compliance of the distancing protocol is a critical factor that the police and barangay officials really never paid any attention to. The transmission continued!

 And even much worse, the system adopted for the distribution of the Special Amelioration Fund actually triggered the convergence of people in one area for 5-8 hours waiting for the cash while there was no strict enforcement of the proper way of wearing face masks and shields. The speed of the transmission and infection of the virus was, of course, doubled!

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ALWAYS BACK TO BASICS. There is no way any of our towns /cities can do what China did to impose and enforce a real lockdown with results. So, to believe that adopting a total lockdown ala NCR is a bigger community crisis waiting to happen – more infections!

What our towns/cities can adopt are limited granular or zonal lockdowns and in places where a high level of infection can be determined. In such lockdowns, families can be closely monitored to stay inside their homes while food and medical services can be  delivered to them.

But even without the lockdown solution, towns/cities can already effectively reduce if not effectively stop the community transmission by strictly enforcing just the two basic protocols and creating greater awareness for the need to wash hands frequently.

All mayors need to do is to direct their barangay officials to form and orient teams about a their single mission: to be on the lookout for violation of face masks and distancing protocol 24/7! Then, BHWs can help in contact-tracing once positive cases are detected by informing barangay chairman who in turn will alert contact-tracers in the town/city.

When fixing anything, always return to the basics!

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LOST CAUSE? It seems the political opposition has already spent all its ammo against the Duterte administration. It is now left with two issues being propped by allies in mainstream and social media.

 There is the investigation on the reported overpricing of PPEs and face masks procured by the DBM for DOH.  But nobody in the opposition seems interested in looking deeper into the circumstances of the reported overpricing but the characters involved in the purchase. It’s obvious that the objective is see PRRD crucified as having masterminded the overpricing without need of proving the overpricing.  Proof? They showed a video clip of a meeting by the government’s RTVN showing PRRD meeting with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. What’s ironic about the opposition’s claim was the fact that the video tape is proof of transparency in government’s transactions.

 PRRD met with the board of Pharmally to get a firm assurance that the needed PPEs will be delivered because no one else could guarantee delivery. He wanted to be sure!

 Then there is the persistent call of VP Leni Robredo challenging PRRD to make his SALN public but does not say why it has to be made public. Normally, calls for transparency is invoked when there is evidence of ill-gotten wealth through series of procurements and purchases that otherwise cannot be backed by government salaries.

 Did she have proofs of acquisition of private jet or a luxury yacht? Or buy-outs of condo buildings in Taguig?  Or hundreds of hectares of land in Davao City? None!

 VP Leni’s demand for transparency is actually a fishing expedition that the opposition hopes will make PRRD appear defensive by sheer allegations and innuendoes.

 It’s becoming more evident that opposition is a lost cause in this era.

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