In the sustained anxiety of society from three years of relentless fault-finding and finger pointing on the past mistakes and sins of previous political administrations (plural), fate has taunted all with still more alleged anomalies, scams, even possible crimes — recidivist, it would seem, to “past” wrong doing. Alas, Philippine politics is like that.
It seems the inordinate preoccupation of leaderships to be popular and to convince the people that they have chosen well. To curry favor by popular measures like “financial inclusion,” or economic “trickle-down” ensures good popularity ratings. Anything and everything to be popular. Isn’t it so fearfully similar to the building up of faith, hope, and trust to clinch the final buy-in for those malevolent pyramid scams?
One cruel irony is that of the “revenge of the dengue,” when 2019 started with an alarming 67% upsurge in the number of dengue cases, and parents did not want their children to be vaccinated. The Department of Health (DoH) warned of the epidemic, saying “Dengue is the fastest spreading vector-borne disease in the world, endemic in 100 countries.” Wasn’t that the reason why past DoHs had to decide on preventive vaccines such as Dengvaxia — the “scam” for which former Health Secretary Janette Garin was grilled and smoked by Congress to find charges of scams to be filed on her?
Current Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who convinced many that Garin was wrong, himself had to buy Dengvaxia to fight the epidemic. By the way, Duque, who is ex-officio chairperson of PhilHealth, is now facing plunder and graft complaints filed by some Dengvaxia victims’ parents before the Office of the Ombudsman for conflict of interest over an allegedly onerous lease agreement with PhilHealth (ABS-CBN News Jun 24, 2019). Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Acosta said that Duque’s family has gotten “easily exceeding P50 million from Philhealth” for 20 years while Duque was serving in various positions in the DoH and Philhealth in the Arroyo, Aquino, and Duterte administrations (Rappler, Dec. 10, 2017).
Meanwhile, Janet Garin ran, and won, as Representative of Iloilo First District in the May 13, 2019 elections. End of the alleged vaccines scams? But the DoH was not let off on explanations yet.
Elsewhere, former Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, a defeated party-list candidate, was approached and “hired” by two whistleblowers who went on TV news about what they had formally complained about to the DoH a year before — that a small health provider, their former employer, WellMed Dialysis & Laboratory Centre Corp. (Wellmed) was processing dialysis claims for deceased patients and claiming these from PhilHealth, a government owned and controlled corporation (GOCC) under the DoH. It was a scam, from whatever angle one looked at it.
PhilHealth officials confirmed that they were able to monitor fraudulent acts involving WellMed, finding 28 of the medical cases that have been filed involved dead patients while 12 others are under investigation (GMA News June 6, 2019). The fraud could cost PhilHealth from P19.65 million to P28.08 million for three years since the scam started in 2016.
“Arrest the idiot,” Mr. Duterte said in an interview on Saturday (June 8) on the television program of an ally (The Straits Times June 10, 2019). Dr. Brian Sy, an ophthalmologist and major owner of Wellmed and six family members, together with two whistleblowers, former WellMed employees Liezel Aileen De Leon and Edwin Roberto, are accused of estafa and falsification of public documents in violation of the Revised Penal Code. The NBI explained that the whistleblowers will have to be charged first before prosecutors can ask the court to discharge them as state witnesses (mb.com.ph Jun 14, 2019).
President Duterte asked for the resignation of Dr. Roy Ferrer as PhilHealth president and that of the entire PhilHealth board, together with all presidential appointees there, and is now scouting for replacements (PhilHealth is now being temporarily run by secondary officials). Remember that Ferrer, when he was just acting PhilHealth president and CEO, was accused by 12 employees for violating the Code of Conduct of Public Officials for failing to divest from businesses that engage with the government’s health insurance program; they also complained to the Ombudsman that he was reimbursed by PhilHealth as a private doctor while receiving salaries and allowances as its board member (Rappler.com Nov 12, 2018). Another scam? Well, Ferrer stuck to PhilHealth, despite.
Scams and anomalies in the DoH must have riled President Duterte to lurid anger and embarrassment that weekend of June 8-9. In a talk with his close friend Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy on the TV program Give Us This Day aired over Quiboloy’s Sunshine Media Network International early Saturday, “he ordered the closure of Kabus Padatoon (Kapa) Community Ministry International for allegedly collecting illegal investments in the guise of religion” (mb.com.ph June 8, 2019).
What is Kapa’s scam? It is supposed to be engaged in a pyramiding fraud, like the notorious 1920s Ponzi scheme that entices “investors” with unbelievably high returns which would be paid to them from the enlarging pyramid base of later investors who are likewise lured by the high returns. “Kapa leader/founder Pastor Joel Apolinario was found to be inviting people to invest in their company every month for as long as they please, in exchange for a 30% interest income at the end of the month. The investment is then labeled as a Deed of Donation or Certificate of Membership” (BusinessWorld Oct. 5, 2018).
The Kapa members love and protect their leader, Apolinario, who is now in hiding from a warrant of arrest. He has successfully pyramided on the faith, hope, and trust of his followers. “Faith” being Apolinario’s main business as a “non-sectarian religious organization” — he claims that the 30% return from the members’ “donation” is not a financial return but “blessings” from God. Or from future “love offerings” or “donations” ala Ponzi?
“I will drag you to hell!” Pastor Quiboloy of the rival religious group Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KJC), who calls himself the “Appointed Son of God,” threatened Kapa Pastor Apolinario (politics.com.ph Jun 12, 2019). “Have you attracted members because you are religious? They are queueing to your offices because of your promise of 30%,” he said. “Apolinario said he believes he has gotten under Quiboloy’s skin after poaching a big chunk of the latter’s church membership” (Ibid.).
Both organizations operate out of Mindanao, Duterte’s home region. Of course, Kapa is as wrong as wrong can be for the pyramiding scam. Could there be the sinister thought that somewhere out there, others might be asking, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
In government and politics, the pyramiding of faith, hope, and trust is a much-used tool for that most important buy-in of the people for the support and popularity of the leadership. Let it not be a sham and a scam that the people will be deprived of the promised high returns of peace and development in the country.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.