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De Lima on deal between Red Cross, PhilHealth: Are we living in the age of denial?

Senator Leila de Lima on Saturday questioned anew the deal between the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) and Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) for advance payments for COVID-19 testing, asking how an official could have made the agreement despite being investigated for alleged anomalies.

In her dispatch, De Lima criticized the denial by PRC that its agreement with the state insurer is marred with irregularity and "conflict of interest."

"Is there anyone left in this administration who is looking out for the interests of our country and our rule of law? Are we living in the age of denial and naiveté?" De Lima said.

"The questions on the MOA between PRC and PhilHealth are simple: what is the legal justification which supports the PhilHealth’s discretion to agree to advance payments? How can a public official with PENDING investigation into PhilHealth’s misdeeds and irregularities negotiate and sign an agreement with the latter? On this score, Sen. Gordon’s defenders seem to espouse a myopic view of what constitutes conflict of interest (Read: delicadeza)," the opposition senator continued.

De Lima maintained that under the Bayanihan to Heal as One law, only procurements by government institutions are exempt from the Procurement Act and related laws.

She said the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between Red Cross and PhilHealth does not require PhilHealth to procure anything.

"Our country deserves to know how these funds are spent and whether they are spent in accordance with our laws. It is our duty to be transparent about public spending and respond to any and all of the allegations of impropriety. We are, after all, public servants. We owe our people our utmost honesty," she said.

De Lima had alleged that there is a supposed "conflict of interest" when Senator and PRC chairperson Richard Gordon entered the deal with PhilHealth for COVID-19 testing, saying that the government-owned and controlled corporation cannot make advance payments because it is contrary to an existing law.

De Lima also said that Gordon, in his report regarding the Blue Ribbon's investigation on PhilHealth last year "suspiciously left out the national leadership of PhilHealth, led by its former Chair and CEO Ricardo Morales."

In response, the PRC cited a provision of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, exempting their MOA with PhilHealth from the Government Procurement Reform Act.

"Under the law, TEST KITS… are included. The law further qualifies that the Department of Health shall prioritize the allocation and distribution of such goods, supplies, etc. to 'public and private laboratories that have existing capacities to test suspected COVID-19 patients,'" the PRC said.

The PRC added that the Bayanihan 1 does not expressly exclude "advance/mobilization fees which is actually a revolving fund." —Jamil Santos/KG, GMA News