PhilHealth chief says 92% of P15-B questioned fund now liquidated   

MORE than 90% of the P15-billion fund released by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) to health care institutions, which has been under investigation, has so far been liquidated, the head of the state-owned insurance firm said on Tuesday. “On the record, the Senate and the House have instructed PhilHealth to liquidate the funds. As of now, 92% of the funds has been liquidated,” PhilHealth President and Chief Executive Officer Dante A. Gierran said in mixed English and Filipino during a televised news briefing. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has filed several and administrative complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman against former PhilHealth officials over alleged irregularities in the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism program, under which the funds were released. Mr. Gierran, a former NBI official who was appointed to the top PhilHealth post at the height of the controversies last year, denied the allegations that the funds were pocketed by former officials. “It was not lost, it’s just there, on record, 92% has been liquidated. Only a little is missing. I will not allow the funds of the Filipinos to disappear,” he said. Mr. Gierran also reported that PhilHealth has already paid about P3.4 billion owed to the Philippine Red Cross for coronavirus tests administered by the humanitarian organization, and that the P400 million balance will be settled “subject to validation.” He also gave assurance that PhilHealth would be able to bounce back from the challenges it has faced since last year, citing that the agency has sufficient reserves. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

Senate panel OK’s bills giving the President power to defer SSS contribution hike

A Senate panel on Tuesday moved to grant President Rodrigo R. Duterte authority to suspend the scheduled increase in the contribution rate of the Social Security System (SSS) amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Senate committee on government corporations and public enterprises, joint with the labor committee, approved in principle the bill allowing Mr. Duterte to defer rate increases during a national health emergency. “My position would be to make it more nimble and leave it to the President in consultation with the SSS when they’re to take action on suspending or deferring the increase,” Senator Richard J. Gordon said during the hearing. The panel tackled Senate Bills 1965, 1970 and 1996, which either proposed to mandate the suspension or give the president the power to decide whether to defer rate increase upon consultation with concerned agencies. SSS President and Chief Executive Officer Aurora C. Ignacio, for her part, appealed to the chamber not to suspend the rate increase, reiterating how it will affect long term goals of the agency. “At the outset, we’d like to state that the bills… proposed will tend to imperil probably on a permanent or temporary basis the sustained benefits of the members and the benefits that’s supposed to go to the members,” she told senators. She said the scheduled increase is expected to generate P41.37 billion and realize a projected fund surplus worth P27.22 billion in 2021. It will also stop the build up of unfunded liability. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

Former Supreme court justices, UP law professors want SolGen to explain Parlade post

TWO former Supreme Court justices, along with law professors from the University of the Philippines (UP), asked the high court to direct the government’s principal counsel to explain the social media post of a military officer against those opposed to the Anti-Terrorism Act, saying it poses a “clear threat” to them. In a 13-page manifestation filed Monday, retired justices Antonio T. Carpio and Conchita Carpio-Morales, and law professors from the state university said they want the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to inform the court if the post under the name of “Antonio Parlade” is an official government position. The petitioners asked the court to direct the OSG to submit its explanation before the Feb. 2 oral arguments relating to 37 cases filed against the anti-terror law. The post of Mr. Parlade warned against individuals and groups who are assailing the law, which expanded the definition of terror crimes in the country. “The SC will soon be hearing petitions against the Anti-Terror Law. Let’s be watchful of these individuals, groups, and organizations opposing a law that will protect citizens from terrorists. What’s their agenda?” the post read. Lt. Gen. Antonio G. Parlade, Jr. is the commander of Armed Forces of the Philippines-Southern Luzon Command and a member of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. The petitioners said the post was “designed to intimidate,” citing the parts “blood debts will be paid” and “amounts to interference with the Honorable Court’s power to administer Justice.” The petitioners said such stance is “inconsistent with the right to petition the government for redress of grievances” under the Constitution. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Physical classes allowed in some medical schools

THE resumption of face-to-face classes for some medical schools has been given the greenlight in areas with low coronavirus cases, Malacañang said on Tuesday. “This is for med schools and medical allied programs of higher education institutions under MGCQ (modified general community quarantine) and HEIs (higher education institutions) in GCQ (general community quarantine) areas with base hospitals that cater to COVID-19 patients,” Presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque, Jr. said during a televised press briefing. He said it is crucial for the country to keep producing medical professionals, especially with the continued coronavirus outbreak. “With a pandemic, we need all the doctors we can have,” Mr. Roque said. The country’s taskforce against the coronavirus pandemic earlier allowed the University of the Philippines-Manila to hold in-person medical internships. It also earlier allowed the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and other technical vocational institutions to hold face-to-face trainings in areas under MGCQ and GCQ. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

3,000 foreigners deported in 2020

MORE than 3,000 foreigners who violated the country’s immigration laws, mostly Chinese nationals, were deported in 2020, the Bureau of Immigration reported. In a statement Tuesday, Commissioner Jaime H. Morente said 3,219 foreigners were deported last year, 3,009 of whom were Chinese. The others were: 60 Vietnamese, 40 Koreans, 25 Americans, 20 Japanese, 12 Indians, and five Pakistanis. “Deported aliens are automatically placed in our blacklist, and are banned from re-entering the Philippines,” Mr. Morente said. The number of deportees in 2020 was lower than the over 6,000 the previous year given travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Morente said that many of those deported were arrested for “working without permit, involvement in unauthorized online gaming operations, telecommunications fraud, economic crimes, investment scams, and cybercrime activities.” There are 276 foreigners still detained at the immigration facility in Taguig City and awaiting deportation as of Dec. 22. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas