POSTSCRIPT / July 7, 2015 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Abaya blaming MRT bids panel or Roxas?

ALTHOUGH Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya approved and signed the questioned maintenance contract for the decrepit Metro Rail Transit Line-3, he tossed the blame to his people in the MRT-3 bids and awards committee.

Having taken over the Department of Transportation and Communication on Oct. 18, 2012, or two days before the contract was awarded to an under-capitalized and inexperienced firm controlled by persons with insider connection, Abaya claimed he was not aware the award was defective.

At the very least, some quarters think, Abaya should be charged with negligence or incompetence.

His “I came in late’ excuse would place the blame for the irregular contract on his immediate predecessor in the DoTC, now Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who must have overseen the drawing up of the $1.15-million-a-month contract before Abaya took over.

Malacañang yesterday defended Abaya, but stopped short of throwing back the blame to Roxas, who looms as the administration-Liberal Party presidential bet in the May 2016 elections.

• Poe asks why Ombudsman excluded Abaya

PRESS Secretary Sonny Coloma said the dropping of Abaya from the graft charges arising from the MRT contract was an act of the Office of the Ombudsman which, he pointed out, is a constitutional office beyond the influence of the Executive department.

He was reacting to Sen. Grace Poe’s questioning the Ombudsman’s exempting Abaya despite his being a signatory to the contract awarded to Philippine Trans Rail Management and Services Corp. (PH Trams). The contract was renewed three times until Sept. 4, 2013.

“I would like to read in full the text of the resolution to find the reasons why Abaya was not included despite having allegedly signed the contract presumably with full knowledge of the facts and the applicable law surrounding such anomalous procurement of services,” Poe said Sunday.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales indicted only former MRT-3 general manager Al Vitangcol III for graft along with Wilson de Vera, Marlo de la Cruz, Manolo Maralit, Federico Remo and Arturo Soriano, all PH Trams incorporators.

Reports had it that Vitangcol was also the MRT chief end-user, head of the negotiating team and member of the bids and awards committee. Soriano was reportedly his uncle-in-law.

The Aquino administration had five years to fix the aging MRT-3 system, but did not bother. From 40 trains, only seven are now running on rickety rails when they do not crash or stall because of some defects or failure in the system.

• Coast Guard also negligent in boat sinking?

THE COAST Guard was also left out when murder complaints were filed by the police against the owner, captain and crew of the ferry m/b Kim Nirvana-B that capsized off Ormoc City last Thursday.

Separate murder complaints were filed by three survivors on top of information for reckless imprudence resulting in homicide and physical injuries. The 19 persons charged had been detained at the police station in Ormoc.

“They were not careful, showing there was an intent to kill,” one of the survivors said. “They were reckless on purpose.”

Questions have been raised as to why the Coast Guard allowed the overloaded ferry to sail out despite its clearly being unfit for a sea voyage. But in fairness, is it the Coast Guard’s sole responsibility to do that?

Pasig Rep. Roman Romulo also asked why the passengers numbering at least 190 were not made to wear a life vest each upon boarding. Such a safety regulation, which the Coast Guard should have enforced, could have saved more of the passengers.

In this archipelago with a coastline twice that of the United States, the roles and responsibilities of agencies such as the DoTC, the Maritime Industry Authority and the Coast Guard must be reviewed, redefined and rationalized with priority on efficiency and safety.

• 10 doctors take P500M from Philhealth

ANOTHER area where the rules have to be tightened is health insurance, now plagued by fraudulent claims filed by medical practitioners themselves. Does the exiting Aquino administration have the time and the will to plug the holes?

Last year, Philippine Health Insurance Corp. paid a whopping P78 billion in insurance benefits. Of this amount, Philhealth chief Alex Padilla said 10 doctors filed health insurance benefit claims worth P500 million, or an average of P50 million each.

Tito Mendiola, former Philhealth senior vice president, said many insiders of the institution are convinced that at least 5.0 percent or P3.9 billion of the payments in 2014 were accounted for by fraudulent claims.

“It is not unlikely that this has happened, too, in preceding years,” Mendiola said in last Friday’s media forum at the Bale-Balita in the Clark Freeport hosted by the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI), Clark Development Corp. and Social Security System.

Mendiola said the situation must be corrected immediately, if only to protect the people’s money. Philhealth’s core equity is contributed by the public, either directly or through the taxes and fees paid to the government.

He proposed a new provision in the laws that would criminalize medical malpractice involving fraudulent claims for health insurance benefits. Such malpractice, he said, should be enough basis for cancelling the license of a cheating medical practitioner.

Philhealth, in turn, must tighten its processing of medical insurance claims to allow it to spot fraud and prosecute cheaters.

To curb malpractices, he added, Philhealth must enter into a multi-agency arrangement involving the Department of Health, Department of Justice, Professional Regulation Commission and the Philippine Medical Association.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 7, 2015)

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