Palace confident Philhealth chief Morales will sign bank secrecy waiver
PhilHealth CEO Ricardo Morales
The STAR/File photo
Palace confident Philhealth chief Morales will sign bank secrecy waiver
Alexis Romero ( - August 13, 2020 - 6:05pm

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang is confident that Philippine Health Insurance Corp. president Ricardo Morales, who is under fire over the alleged anomalies in the state-run insurer, will allow investigators to scrutinize his bank account.

Some PhilHealth officials expressed willingness to sign bank secrecy waivers during last Wednesday's House hearing on the supposed corrupt and fraudulent activities that are costing the state insurer billions of pesos. The bank secrecy waiver will allow the Anti-Money Laundering Council to access records of the bank deposits and transactions made by the signatories.

However, Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Barbers was not satisfied, saying Morales and other top officials of PhilHealth should also agree to do the same so investigators can determine the lapses in the system.

Speaking during a press briefing Thursday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Morales' illness may have been the reason why the PhilHealth chief has not given his consent to check his bank account. Morales is suffering from lymphoma and will go on medical leave next week to undergo chemotherapy.

"I understand that he (Morales) was not feeling well so he left (the House hearing) early. I'm sure general Morales will also sign such a waiver," Roque said.

"But in any case, all people in government, whenever we file our SALN (statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth), we sign a declaration that we allow the ombudsman to open our bank accounts," he added.

President Rodrigo Duterte has formed a task force that would probe the alleged irregularities in PhilHealth, including the supposed existence of a syndicate that pocketed about P15 billion in funds and the purchase of allegedly overpriced information equipment and coronavirus test kits.

Some senators have recommended the suspension of PhilHealth's interim reimbursement mechanism, citing the corruption allegations hounding the state-run insurer. Roque said there is nothing wrong with distributing cash advances as long as they benefit areas worst hit by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
"When Malacañang met with the PhilHealth board, that was one of the things I raised. I asked why a lot of funds went to regions that do not have COVID cases. My suggestion was take back the funds and give them to areas with COVID cases," the Palace spokesman said.

"I am not against the cash advances distributed by PhilHealth as long as we put them in places that really need them because they cannot wait for cash disbursement before they act. They (advances) should be given to Metro Manila and nearby provinces that are under MECQ (modified enhanced community quarantine)."

Metro Manila, Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite, and Rizal were placed under MECQ from August 4 to 18 to give the government time to enhance its pandemic response. Duterte previously said he could no longer impose a nationwide lockdown because the government no longer has money to help workers who will be affected by quarantine restrictions.

'Suspend PhilHealth execs'

Roque said PhilHealth officials should be placed under preventive suspension to prevent them from destroying evidence. But he clarified that he was speaking on his personal capacity, not as a spokesman of the president.

"I am urging the task force of (justice secretary) Meynard (Guevarra). The crooks have been there for so long and since there is a lot of evidence we have to protect, they should be placed under preventive suspension tomorrow. When you are facing accusation, you are tempted to destroy and hide the evidence," Roque told radio station dzBB.

"I would bar senior executives from entering the building and put them on preventive suspension right away otherwise, we won't have any evidence against them," he added.

Roque said until now, he still does not have documents to convict WellMed for malversation of public funds. Wellmed was tagged in the "ghost" dialysis controversy.

"It's just one case. How about the bigger cases?" he said.

Roque previously said Duterte would wait for the decision of the task force before making a decision on the issues hounding PhilHealth. The president has vowed to put in jail officials of the health insurer who are involved in corruption.

PACC to summon hospital execs

The Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), which has launched a separate probe on the issues surrounding PhilHealth, is planning to summon officials of hospitals that benefited from unverified claims to the state-run insurer.

"We will subpoena red flagged hospitals. In our opinion, payments made to them should be put on hold and validated," PACC Commissioner Greco Belgica told Teleradyo..

Belgica said PACC is still identifying the hospitals that may have connived with corrupt PhilHealth officials.

"As we speak today, some people are charging and payments are still being made so we have to identify the (red-flagged) hospitals and subpoena (them) today," he added.

The PACC has recommended the dismissal and filing of cases against 36 PhilHealth officials who are involved in the alleged padding of hospital claims made to the state-run insurer. 

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