‘Guilty PhilHealth execs must return funds’

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
âGuilty PhilHealth execs must return fundsâ
Many PhilHealth members, he noted, are clamoring for the return of the funds lost to anomalies hatched by officials.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) officials who are found guilty of corruption and other crimes must return the public funds theypocketed, according to Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

Many PhilHealth members, he noted, are clamoring for the return of the funds lost to anomalies hatched by officials.

“Under Article 17 of the Revised Penal Code, what can be filed against them is malversation of public funds. And there are provisions (stating) that apart from jail terms, the amount of funds that was malversed must be returned. That’s part of the law,” Lacson yesterday told dzAR.

He cited the same accompanying penalties for those convicted of plunder.

Sen. Joel Villanueva said the principle of chain of command in PhilHealth meant executive vice president and chief operating officer Arnel de Jesus “should step in to fill the void as officer-in-charge.”

“His health condition notwithstanding, he should be able to discharge his functions as officer-in-charge and ensure the smooth operation of the PhilHealth at this critical time,” Villanueva said.

He urged other PhilHealth executives to provide all the necessary support De Jesus needs so the agency would continue to provide service to the people “as urgent as the times today necessitate.”

But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon expressed disappointment over the designation, saying De Jesus implemented the questionable Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM).

“It must be remembered that he was the one who kept justifying the download of IRM funds to non-COVID-19 hospitals such as dialysis and maternity clinics. His actions and poor professional judgment were so evident during the hearings of the committee of the whole on PhilHealth,” Drilon said in a statement on Friday.

“He is the one who said that liquidation is ‘optional’, when PhilHealth should have required hospitals to liquidate the funds immediately as required by COA (Commission on Audit) rules. He signed the illegal liquidation memorandum circular which gave too much discretion to regional directors, which resulted in this financial mess and corruption,” he stressed.

Drilon said there was nothing from De Jesus’ past actions that could justify the decision of the PhilHealth board to appoint him, adding that with the official at the helm, “it is going to be the same old story of corruption and incompetence.”

“What PhilHealth needs now is a cleansing process. We need someone with unblemished credibility, with zero tolerance for corruption and with high regard for accountability, of which Mr. De Jesus really fell short and is really unqualified,” he said. “He is not the right man to lead PhilHealth.”

Sen. Francis Pangilinan also lamented De Jesus’ designation, saying this was not the reform the agency needs and the public wants.

He said the public clamor is for the replacement of Secretary Francisco Duque, both as the country’s health chief, and head of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

“The public clamor is for a surgery of the cancer that is corruption not just in PhilHealth, but in the government offices responsible for the procurement of overpriced and sometimes ineffective medical equipment, devices, and supplies,” Pangilinan added.

Meanwhile, former PhilHealth president and CEO Roy Ferrer and 10 other officials have questioned their suspension as they were not charged with alleged graft and corruption as well as malversation charges before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Ferrer, a Department of Health assistant secretary, insisted he should not be suspended as he is neither facing charges of graft and corruption nor malversation of public funds before the Ombudsman.

His counsel, Francis Badilla, stressed that the “the charges filed against Dr. Ferrer, et al have nothing to do with corruption nor the alleged loss of billions of pesos from PhilHealth. Dr. Ferrer is not being charged with corruption nor malversation.”

Also suspended with Ferrer for six months without pay are Celestina Ma. Jude dela Serna, Ruben John Basa, Dennis Mas, Shirley Domingo, Rodolfo del Rosario Jr., Raul Dominic Badilla, Israel Pargas, Angelito Grande, Lawrence Mijares and Leila Tuazon.

Badilla described the 10 who were suspended as top lawyers and health professionals who are officials and members of the board of directors of PhilHealth.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires signed the preventive suspension order last Aug. 8, at the height of separate investigations conducted by the Senate and the House of Representatives on fresh charges of corruption and fraud perpetrated by a mafia in PhilHealth.

Badilla said in a statement that the suspension was a retaliation of those affected by the ensuing dismissal and suspension orders.

“The issuance of the preventive suspension order was in violation of right to due process of law,” the statement read in part. – Edith Regalado, Elizabeth Marcelo

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