Resignation won’t absolve Morales – Palace

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Resignation wonât absolve Morales â Palace
PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales
BusinessWorld / File

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte has accepted the resignation of Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) president Ricardo Morales, as Malacañang stressed his decision to quit won’t absolve him of possible criminal and administrative liabilities.

Morales, who has been in hot water over alleged fraudulent schemes in PhilHealth, resigned from his post last Wednesday after Duterte advised him to do so supposedly to allow him to attend to his health issues.

His resignation came as a multi-agency task force is looking into allegations that a “mafia” in the state-run insurer has pocketed billions in funds through anomalous transactions.

“The resignation of general Morales has been accepted. There is no replacement yet,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at a press briefing yesterday.

“The President has always been of the opinion that health should come first. He is hoping that the resignation of General Morales will lead to the recovery of General Morales from his current ailment,” he added.

Morales, a retired Army general, is suffering from lymphoma and has been advised by his doctor to go on leave to undergo chemotherapy. Roque previously said Duterte won’t pressure Morales to resign while authorities are investigating the alleged massive corruption in PhilHealth.

Among the irregularities tied to PhilHealth are the padding of hospital claims, procurement of allegedly overpriced coronavirus test kits and information technology equipment, and unauthorized release of funds to hospitals that have not yet logged coronavirus cases.

PhilHealth officials have denied the allegations and promised to cooperate with investigators.

Roque said PhilHealth officials may still face charges even if they quit their posts.

“The law is very clear: if there is a criminal liability incurred when you are in office, it subsists; and public officers can be held liable for them whether or not they continue to be in office,” Roque said.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra voiced the same position. “My comment is a general comment and has no specific reference to General Morales. Any resigned, retired, or dismissed public officer may still be held liable for any felonious or criminal act or omission committed during his/her tenure in office,” he said.  “Termination of service, except by death, is not a mode of extinguishing criminal liability under our penal code and criminal statutes,” he added.

Roque said there is no deadline for the naming of Morales’ successor but expressed hope that the next PhilHealth chief would help the state-run insurer regain the public’s trust.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said PhilHealth executive vice president Arnel de Jesus has been appointed officer-in-charge of the state insurer.

“The replacement should have no record of corruption, should have managerial skills, should have skills in the field of insurance and health service. Since PhilHealth is not just an insurance company but also the implementer of universal health care, the successor should have a background in community health and public health,” Roque said.

“We do not lack people who are capable of providing service but the President will choose the one who has the qualifications that will allow PhilHealth to recover. The President admits that PhilHealth requires his personal attention... He needs someone who can help him restore the public’s trust in PhilHealth,” he said.

Charisma needed

On Morales’ resignation, Guevarra said his replacement should have “a good amount of charisma to inspire and rally the good people at PhilHealth to start rebuilding the public’s trust in and respect for their agency,” which is bedeviled by corruption issues.

Morales should be succeeded by “someone who has a steep experience in financial management and deep understanding of the law,” Guevarra said.

In a statement, Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said resigned senior vice president for the legal sector Rodolfo del Rosario Jr. has reportedly confirmed that of the thousands of administrative cases against PhilHealth employees, only 70 have been “processed” and 50 have resulted in formal charges against erring employees.

At Wednesday’s hearing of Task Force PhilHealth, Perete also said the Governance Commission for Government-owned and controlled corporations (GCG) gave the PhilHealth legal sector zero rating in its 2017 and 2018 evaluations because of delays in the filing of cases.

“The quiet investigation being conducted by Task Force PhilHealth is running well, although we are aware that our resource persons are not telling us everything that we ought to know. At the end of this investigation, we hope to be able to build up enough cases against persons responsible for the PhilHealth mess, whether or not they continue to be in PhilHealth’s employ,” Guevarra added.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco Duque has expressed full support for the ongoing congressional investigation of PhilHealth but reminded the public that a few “rotten eggs” do not represent the entire organization.

“I welcome the Senate inquiry as a way of clearing my name. My public service record is an open book. If there is a single thread of conclusive evidence of my involvement on any all issues, then let the axe fall,” Duque said in a statement.

Duque admitted feeling hurt by being called “godfather of  PhilHealth mafia,” saying “accountability and transparency have been my guidepost in all my years in the public sector…”

“I have tried to reform the institution. Even under the pandemic, we try our level best to get things done,” Duque pointed out.

Sen. Richard Gordon said PhilHealth officials found involved in irregularities should be jailed and prosecuted based on the alleged anomalies the Senate Blue Ribbon committee unearthed a year ago.

“Prosecute the guilty. It is easy to prove it. (There were) circumstantial evidence but when you connect it, it’s very substantive. You can make a case for it. You have to have people in jail, we have to be serious about that. Nobody goes to jail in this country for graft,” said Gordon in an interview with “The Chiefs” on OneNews / TV5.

“PhilHealth has become the favorite and No. 1 target of people who are corrupt. They can easily make money because there is an entrenched mafia there,” Gordon added.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III is set to release his report next week on the committee of the whole’s investigation of PhilHealth anomalies including the P27-billion Interim Reimbursement Mechanism and the alleged overprice in the purchase of P2.1-billion information technology equipment. – Cecille Suerte Felipe, Mayen Jaymalin, Evelyn Macairan, Edith Regalado

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