Family does business with gov't while Duque is health chief – Lacson

MANILA, Philippines – Companies owned by the family of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III have been doing business with government, specifically dealing with the agency he heads, placing the secretary in a conflict of interest situation. 

This was revealed by Senator Panfilo Lacson in his privilege speech on Monday, July 29, as he asked: "Is it not incumbent upon Secretary Duque to exercise professionalism and ethical standards by stopping all dealings of his family’s corporation with the very government agency that he heads?" Lacson said. 

The Duque family had leased out a building in Pangasinan to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, while their drug manufacturing firm continued to bid for government contracts.

Philhealth's regional office in Ilocos had a 6-year lease contract with the Duque family-owned Educational and Medical Development Corporation (EMDC) building in Dagupan City, ending in December 2018. The contracted started in June 2012. 

"Ang pinakalantaran na paglabag sa umiiral na batas ay ang pagpatuloy ng kontrata ng EMDC at Philhealth sa kabila ng pag-upo ni Francisco Duque bilang kalihim ng Department of Health at ex-officio chairperson ng Philhealth simula noong October 2017," Lacson said.

(The outright violation of the law lies in continuing the contract between EMDC and Philhealth despite the appointment of Francisco Duque as the secretary of Department of Health and ex-officio chairperson of Philhealth starting October 2017.)

Prior to Duque's appointment as health secretary, he held concurrent positions at EMDC and the government, Lacson said, showing documents through a series of slides. 

The senator said Duque was the executive vice president of EMDC in 2012, while he was the chairman of the Civil Service Commission and ex-officio Philhealth director.

While Duque was a consultant for the Department of Health (DOH) from 2015 to 2016, he served as the president of EMDC, Lacson added.

In June 2019, Duque's brother Gonzalo – who was appointed as Philippine Coconut Authority administrator by President Rodrigo Duterte – said their family would "no longer" lease the building to Philhealth. Lacson said Gonzalo serves as EMDC president.

"Utang na loob pa ba natin sa pamilya nila na hanggang Disyembre 2018 na lang magbabayad ang Philheath sa EMDC?" Lacson said. 

(It's like we owe it to them that Philhealth only had to pay to EMDC until December 2018.)

'Setting aside health for wealth'?

Lacson identified another Duque-owned firm, the Doctors Pharmaceuticals Inc, which has been bidding for government contracts, primarily with the DOH, since 2005.

The senator called Doctors Pharmaceuticals a "lackey business," citing its history of noncompliance to good manufacturing practices. In fact, he said, the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) ordered it closed in 2015.

Citing FDA, the senator said Doctors Pharmaceuticals manufactured amoxicillin with the same machines it used for weight loss products.

"Despite the recorded violations of the company as food supplement manufacturer, it still managed to apply and acquire automatic renewal of its license to operate in 2016. This is a case of setting aside health for wealth, Mr President," Lacson said.

In closing his speech, the senator asked that Duque "rid himself" of conflict of interest and "put the interest of the poeple above everybody else."

According to a report by Inquirer.net, Duque faces a graft and plunder complaint over the EMDC building rental issue.

In his privilege speech, Lacson also revealed that WellMed Dialysis Center continued to receive reimbursements from PhilHealth even after the state-run insurance corporation suspended its accrediation due to anomalous claims. Duque stood as sponsor at the wedding of WellMed's owner, but he clarified that as ex-officio chairperson of PhilHealth, he is remote from operational matters such as approving and releasing reimbursements. 

"Corrupt public officials have no place on earth. But corrupt officials stealing health funds deserve an upgraded and super special suite in hell," Lacson said. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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