Morales ready to face Senate
“As president and chief executive, it is my duty to represent the corporation while still physically capable,”PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales said in a statement released by PhilHealth yesterday. “I regret that my privacy was not respected.”
BusinessWorld/File
Morales ready to face Senate
Mayen Jaymalin (The Philippine Star) - August 10, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Despite his illness, Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales has expressed willingness to testify before the Senate in its investigation into alleged irregularities in the state-run insurer.

“As president and chief executive, it is my duty to represent the corporation while still physically capable,” Morales said in a statement released by PhilHealth yesterday. “I regret that my privacy was not respected.”

Morales has no intention to skip the Senate investigation set tomorrow, or any other investigation concerning the reported anomalies involving the corporation, according to PhilHealth.

It said Morales merely submitted his medical certificate as required just to ask the Senate that he be allowed to attend the investigation through video conference instead of being there physically.

Morales was diagnosed with cancer last February and is currently undergoing chemotherapy.

Because of his illness, Morales is considered immunocompromised and has thus been advised to avoid going out.

Morales continues to hold office against doctor’s orders, PhilHealth said.

Netizens have accused Morales of faking his illness to excuse himself from the Senate investigation.

PhilHealth is hounded by allegations of irregularities, including the supposed pocketing of some P15 billion by a “syndicate,” the alleged overpricing of information equipment and coronavirus test kits, and the purported padding of hospital claims to the state-run insurer.

‘No matter what’

The executive department’s probe on the alleged anomalies at PhilHealth would continue “no matter what,” Malacañang said yesterday, after it was reported that two key officials of the state insurer may skip the Senate hearing on the matter due to health issues.

President Duterte has ordered the creation of Task Force PhilHealth, a multi-agency task force that would look into the allegations and, if necessary, slap a preventive suspension on officials tied to the anomalies. PhilHealth officials have expressed readiness to face the investigations, saying they have nothing to hide.

“Task force created by (President Duterte) to proceed with the investigation, impose possible preventive suspensions... no matter what,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said in a text message yesterday.

“There is no turning back as we expect the task force to submit its findings and recommendations to the Office of the President (OP) within 30 days after its constitution as directed by the Chief Executive,” Roque said in a separate statement.

The Senate has started its inquiry on the issue and is scheduled to conduct its next hearing tomorrow. Morales and PhilHealth executive vice president and chief operating officer Arnel de Jesus, however, may skip the hearing because of their health condition.

Morales has been advised by his doctor to take a leave of absence to undergo chemotherapy for lymphoma while De Jesus has informed the Senate that he has an “unforeseen medical emergency.”

“We leave it to the Senate, a separate co-equal branch, to comment on reports that officials of (PhilHealth) may skip their hearing, scheduled on August 11, for medical/health reasons,” Roque said.

“As far as the executive is concerned, the task force organized by the Department of Justice, upon the instruction of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, will proceed in its mandate to investigate the various allegations of corruption in PhilHealth,” he said.

The task force will audit PhilHealth finances, conduct lifestyle checks on its officials and employees, and if necessary, recommend the preventive suspension of any official to ensure that the probe would be unhampered, according to the Palace spokesman.

Morales has rejected calls for him to resign, saying he would act like a “good soldier” as long as he is needed in PhilHealth. The embattled PhilHealth chief has also claimed that stamping out deeply rooted fraud requires a “special and sustained effort.”

Last week, Roque said Duterte won’t dismiss Morales unless there is proof linking him to anomalies.

“That’s why I think after the evidence (is) unearthed, the President will move and do the correct thing. He knows that people are counting on PhilHealth at the time of a pandemic, and we cannot afford the citizenry to lose their faith and trust in the agency that is most relevant to them when there is a threat of disease. I’m confident that the President will be up to the challenge,” Roque said in a television interview last Wednesday.

DOJ’s priorities

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said their task force probe would not center on the coronavirus disease 2019, but on investigations that can be finished during the given 30-day period, including the alleged multibillion-peso scam involving “ghost” patients availing themselves of kidney dialysis treatments from WellMed Dialysis and Laboratory Center.

Guevarra added that they would ask a copy of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC)’s initial report on PhilHealth’s irregularities.

Since Duterte only gave task force PhilHealth 30 days to submit to the OP their findings and recommendations, Guevarra yesterday said they would rather prioritize issues where there are already ongoing investigations and can be finished before the deadline.

“I will request the rest of the task force members to identify these ongoing investigations that may actually be expedited and completed within the period. I hope the WellMed ghost dialysis claims case is one of them,” he added.

Sometime last year, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed criminal complaints before the Department of Justice against 21 PhilHealth officials and employees for violating the anti-graft law, in connection with the controversial “ghost” dialysis treatments.

WellMed reportedly made bogus payment claims for dead patients from PhilHealth from 2016 to 2018.

Guevarra said they would not focus all their energy on COVID-19-related irregularities since there are already other bodies conducting their own investigations such as the Senate, House of Representatives and the PACC.

The PACC is part of the Task Force PhilHealth. The other agencies are the Office of the Ombudsman, Commission on Audit, Civil Service Commission, Office of the Executive Secretary and the Presidential Management Staff.

Commissioner Greco Belgica of the PACC had earlier said they might file administrative charges against 36 PhilHealth officials, and 13 out of the 36 officials could be charged criminally this week because of irregularities.

Davao hospital anomaly

An 18-bed hospital in Davao managed to avail itself of PhilHealth’s Interim Reimbursement Mechanism even without a single case of COVID-19, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said yesterday.

Zubiri said the issue would be one of the cases to be discussed during the resumption of the public hearing tomorrow by the Senate committee of the whole, which is investigating the alleged corruption at PhilHealth.

“There are many schemes like non-existing beneficiaries. A hospital in Davao with only 18 beds received P10 million from PhilHealth without any case of COVID-19,” he said in Filipino in an interview over radio station dzBB.

The 18-bed infirmary was in the ranks of tertiary hospitals, on the top 7 highest paid facilities on pneumonia claims, having collected P18 million in 2014, and almost P10 million in the first semester of 2015. – Alexis Romero, Evelyn Macairan, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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