Duque denies conflict of interest in Philhealth office rental


By Macon Araneta i FilAm Star Correspondent

Health Sec. Francisco Duque III said he is ready amid threats by Sen. Panfilo Lacson that he will initiate a probe into “conflict of interest” and the squandering of billions of Philhealth funds.

Lacson said there was a clear case of conflict interest as the office of PhilHealth Region 1 in Dagupan City was renting a building owned by Duque but under the name of the Educational and Medical Development Corporation.

Lacson said Duque is still listed in the general information sheet from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a member of the board of his family’s corporation.

“We are talking about documents here if he really divested,” said Lacson.

But Duque,  who also serves as the ex-officio chairperson of PhilHealth, insisted there was no conflict of interest because he disclosed  in his Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SALN) that the property is owned by his family.

Duque noted that when  he was elected as president of the Lyceum Northwestern University whose corporate name is Education Medical Development Corporation, he was already a private citizen, having left government service in 2015.

He went back to Dagupan City as a private citizen. He then learned that their building had been leased by Philhealth but he did not initiate the leasing.

“I did not influence Philhealth to preferentially lease the property of my family and I was not a public official,” pointed out Duque.

Informed that Lacson had just started his investigation, Duque said he does not know what other cases the Senator would find against him.

The health chief also said it was around 2015-2016 when he headed  their corporation.

At that time,   PhilHealth was already a tenant of their corporation inside the campus of their university.  PhilHealth has been renting the space since 2012.

When President Rodrigo Duterte asked him to be the secretary of Health, he resigned from his post as president and CEO and member of the board of their corporation.

“I was replaced by a sibling. While I was still there and head of our corporation, the contract was still in effect, every  year there’s a renewal. (PhilHealth) is looking for a new place, a lot where they can build their building to be their permanent regional center,” he explained.

But when that supposed transaction in 2016 did not push through the PhilHealth’s regional office asked for a renewal of contract in 2017.

When PhilHealth requested for a renewal, Duque said it was his sister, Luz Duque-Hammershaimb, who signed the contract of lease.

He said they cannot terminate the contract if PhilHealth hasn’t found a new place.

But Duque said his family decided not to renew the contract because the school needs additional classrooms for its expansion. The contract ends in December 2019.

Lacson made the disclosure about Duque and his “conflict of interest” as government girded for the implementation of the Universal Health Care law, which Duterte signed in February. The measure seeks to provide health coverage to all Filipinos.

“What proper action should the chairman facing this kind of issue do?

Isn’t it logical for him to take a leave of absence? Just set aside conflict of interest but focus on the anomaly.”