Philhealth chief goes on medical leave while under probe—why this didn’t surprise many

August 12, 2020 - 5:34 PM
This is a file photo of PhilHealth President and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales (PNA/Sarwell Meniano

President Rodrigo Duterte wished the “speedy recovery” of embattled Philippine Health Insurance Corp. President Ricardo Morales, who filed a “medical leave” amid corruption allegations.

“The president wishes President Morales speedy recovery. ‘Yun lang po. Hindi naman po niya didiinan ang tao na nagsasabi na merong malubhang karamdaman (He will not pin down a person who has a severe illness). We wish him the best and we hope he recovers right away,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters in a televised press briefing last Tuesday.

When asked if a new PhilHealth chief will be appointed soon, Roque said that there will be no “leadership vacuum” in any government agency yet.

“Kahit anong magiging desisyon ni General Morales meron talagang system in place para magpatuloy ang trabaho ng kahit anong organisasyon sa gobyerno,” he said.

Roque also previously said Duterte continues to support Morales despite being in hot water over alleged anomalies within the state-run agency.

However, the president will still wait for the findings and recommendations of the government panel tasked to probe PhilHealth.

Cancer and cardiovascular diseases

Last August 8, Morales and PhilHealth executive vice president Arnel de Jesus notified the Senate that they could not be physically present to the scheduled legislative hearing on August 11 due to medical concerns.

Morales sent a medical certificate from the Cardinal Santos Medical Center informing the Senate Committee of the Whole of his ongoing chemotherapy for lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes.

De Jesus, meanwhile, cited an “unforeseen medical emergency” as his reason to Senate President Vicente Sotto III for not being able to participate in the Senate inquiry.

A medical certificate obtained by CNN Philippines showed that De Jesus had been admitted to a private hospital since August 5 due to different cardiovascular diseases and needs surgery.

Following the medical leaves filed by PhilHealth’s senior officials, Sotto suggested that high-ranking government officials should just resign if recovery of their illnesses is not possible “at a certain time.”

“Out of delicadeza, if you’re sick, you should either take leave if your recovery is possible; or if it is not possible at a certain time, resign,” Sotto said in a virtual press briefing on August 10.

“The public is being shortchanged when you have public officials who cannot perform their work, especially is he has a prevailing health condition,” he added.

Looks familiar?

Several Filipinos noted similarities between the circumstances of Morales and De Jesus and other government officials as well as personalities involved in corruption.

They expressed this observation through witty and funny memes wherein they supposed a wheelchair as “the starter kit” for high-ranking officials who suddenly got sick during trials of their alleged corrupt practices.

umay from Philippines

Physician and medical anthropologist Gideon Lasco, meanwhile, questioned why officials with serious illnesses still remain in office.

“Amid a public health crisis and allegations of obscene corruption, we need leaders who are morally and physically fit to lead our health agencies,” he wrote.

Last week, a former officer from PhilHealth accused Morales and other members of its executive committee of pocketing P15 billion from the agency.

The state insurer’s IT system and budget were also found to have overpriced gadgets and records of members over 130 years old.

‘Wheelchair society’

In April 2014, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz said businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged pork barrel scam mastermind, is then the latest member of the so-called “wheelchair society.”

Cruz explained that “wheelchair society” is a trend in the Philippine justice system, with people accused of stealing from government coffers getting sick after they are implicated to anomalies.

He said that the first members of this include former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and late Chief Justice Renato Corona.

In 2012, during his impeachment trials, Corona testified before the impeachment court in a wheelchair.

Corona was impeached on May 23, 2012, after the Senate found him guilty over his failure to disclose to the public his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth.

During the same year, Arroyo also appeared in a wheelchair and wearing neck braces when she was being tried over allegedly misusing P366 million in state lottery funds.

Arroyo was only held under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center before she was released in July 2016.