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PhilHealth execom is real ‘mafia’ – Ping

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
PhilHealth execom is real âmafiaâ â Ping
The committee wrapped up last week its inquiry that included alleged corruption in the disbursements of the multibillion-peso interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM) and the reported overprice in the purchase of information technology equipment worth P2.1 billion.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate is set to release this week its report on the alleged multibillion-peso anomalies at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), with a recommendation to prosecute members of a “mafia” whom Sen. Panfilo Lacson said comprise the agency’s executive committee.

“I think I’m not alone in this thinking – as early as April, it turns out – that it is maneuvering everything, including overpricing and the movement of funds,” Lacson told dzBB in Filipino over the weekend, referring to the executive committee. “So we can say that based on the documents I’ve read, the mafia is in the execom. It’s them, as it turns out.”

“It may not be nice to say it, but they’re really the mafia,” he said.

He said the report is being finalized by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who chaired the specially convened Senate committee of the whole, where all senators are members.

The committee wrapped up last week its inquiry that included alleged corruption in the disbursements of the multibillion-peso interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM) and the reported overprice in the purchase of information technology (IT) equipment worth P2.1 billion.

Lacson said the two anomalies appeared to have been orchestrated by members of the executive committee, led by PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales.

Aside from Morales, whom the senator pointed out to have admitted during a hearing that he authorized the IRM disbursements to certain hospitals, others in the committee are fund management sector senior vice president Renato Limsiaco; information management sector SVP Jovita Aragona; and information technology and management sector senior manager Calixto Gabuya.

Lacson tagged Aragona and Gabuya in the overpricing of IT equipment by as much as 1,000 percent to 5,000 percent while Limsiaco was the main person deciding which hospital and health care institution (HCI) would be given funds under the IRM.

The IRM, which is now suspended, provided hospitals and HCIs with advance money to help them continue operating and not be saddled with debt amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

PhilHealth allocated P27 billion for the IRM of which nearly P15 billion have been disbursed to various hospitals and HCIs.

The Senate inquiry, prompted by whistleblowers who included Etrobal Laborte, Morales’ former head executive assistant, and PhilHealth board member Alejando Cabading, noted the “apparent favoritism” in IRM disbursements where some hospitals with few or no coronavirus patients received tens of millions of pesos while government medical facilities obtained nothing.

Lacson said the Senate, in its committee report, is expected to recommend the strengthening of the PhilHealth board to give it more oversight and lessen ministerial functions, stressing that the powers of the execom must be clipped.

Even as the committee is expected to propose amendments to the law creating PhilHealth and a long list of possible charges to be filed against its officials, the panel also provided all documents and testimonies in the course of inquiry to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

PhilHealth officials would face charges that range from violations of Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code or malversation of public funds, falsification of documents, violations of National Internal Revenue Code to the Anti-Graft and Corruption Practices Act, Lacson said.

Not qualified

Meanwhile, a PhilHealth official has admitted before the House of Representatives that there are lawyers far more qualified than him and would not mind being reassigned elsewhere.

“If I will be reassigned, I will be happy your honor. Most, if not all, of the 20 or so lawyers under me are more senior to me in terms of legal experience,” 45-year-old senior vice president for legal affairs Rodolfo del Rosario Jr. said.

Upon questioning by senior House Deputy Majority Leader Jesus Crispin Remulla, the suspended PhilHealth executive confirmed that he only became a lawyer in 2016, although he started out in the agency in 1998.

“I’m sorry to say but he’s not competent to handle that job. Some people are not meant to take on such a job with such gargantuan problem,” Remulla said, noting that PhilHealth is government’s biggest government-owned corporation, with an annual budget of P200 billion.

The lawmaker from Cavite also took the opportunity to ask Del Rosario pointblank on persistent insinuations that he is actually the “main player” in the PhilHealth mafia, but which the official denied.

“I absolutely deny that. I signed the AMLC (Anti-Money Laundering Council) bank waiver your honor. That’s very much unfair.”

‘Privatize PhilHealth’

In the meantime, a member of the House minority bloc has filed a bill that seeks to “privatize” the graft-ridden PhilHealth to prevent further abuses by its officers that run in the billions.

Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Alabastro-Quimbo filed House Bill 7429, or the “Social Health Insurance Crisis Act,” which seeks to privatize the state health insurer lately discovered to have deeply rooted anomalies dating as far back as 2013.

“We need a paradigm shift in the way we provide social health insurance to our people,” she said.

“Under the bill, the President will have the power to privatize the entire PhilHealth or segments thereof.”

According to the House deputy minority leader, the measure will also create an Executive-Legislative Social Health Insurance Crisis Commission to reorganize the corporation.

“It is also mandated to contract a Transition Management Team from a private corporation or a management consultancy firm which will implement our national insurance program pursuant to the Universal Health Care law,” Quimbo said. – Delon Porcalla

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