Duterte OKs raps vs ex-PhilHealth chief Morales, other senior officers

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines (Updated September 15, 9:20 a.m.) — President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the filing of administrative and criminal complaints against Ricardo Morales — former CEO of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., — and several of its senior officers following investigation conducted by "Task Force PhilHealth."

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, in a Facebook post, said that Duterte approved the panel’s recommendations, which include filing charges against several officers of the state insurer. Roque made the announcement after a portion of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease meeting was aired on state media.

In a message to reporters on Tuesday morning, Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete explained that the president approved the filing of complaints against officers of the state insurer.

“Filing either with the Office of the Ombudsman (for the administrative or criminal complaints) or with prosecutors (for criminal complaints) and with the PhilHealth (for administrative complaints), depending on the crime committed and/or the rank of the respondent,” Perete added.

This means that the respondents will be given a chance to refute allegations against them in a preliminary investigation, either at the DOJ or Ombudsman before charges will be filed against them.

Task Force PhilHealth report

During the IATF meeting, Duterte read part of the panel's report that said that "the totality of evidence presented to them led to the conclusion that wrongful acts or omissions" on the part of certain key PhilHealth officers have been committed.

"Negligence exhibited by certain officers by the PhilHealth executive committee gives rise to both administrative and criminal liability," it added.

Morales stepped down as PhilHealth president and CEO in late August, while the task force's investigation was ongoing. He thanked the president for allowing him to resign so he could focus on his health and family.

READ: Morales quits PhilHealth

Certain PhilHealth senior officers, including Morales, will face charges for violating Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and committing malversation of public funds and illegal use of public finds and property, gross misconduct and gross neglect of duty under Civil Service rules.

Some officers will also be held liable for violation of the National Internal Revenue Code, in connection to their failure to withhold taxes on release under the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism.

The IRM are funds given to hospitals to allow them liquidity for health crisis response, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. This mechanism was earlier ordered suspended by PhilHealth and reviewed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

Reading from the report, Duterte said "while the board chairman and members exhibited negligence" in instances, “their careless approval of ICT procurement, the ratification of IRM—baka ito yung advanced fund release on March 2020 — and the consent of the modification of judgement in court adjudicated cases and negligence is somehow mitigated by active concealment of the vital documents and information and the apparent misrepresentation by those who had sought the board’s approval.”

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III chairs the PhilHealth board by virtue of his position.

Roque, in the Facebook post, said the following officers, aside from Morales, will face charges:

  • PhilHealth COO and executive vice president Arnel De Jesus
  • Senior Vice President, chief information officer Jovita Aragona
  • Senior Vice President on Fund Management Sector Renato Limsiaco Jr.
  • Senior Vice President on Health Finance Policy Sector Israel Francis Pargas

Roque also said that “OIC [Calixto] Gabuya” and a certain "Crisostomo" will face charges.

The DOJ said they will issue later in Tuesday a more exhaustive statement on the report they submitted to the president.

The task force also recommended that Duterte “strongly admonish and remind the chairman and members of the board of the grave consequence of their action or inaction to PhilHealth fund to the government and its coffers and to the interest of ordinary people who rely on PhilHealth assistance.”

Duterte said that while he feels sorry for the PhilHealth officers, they would have undergo trial but noted that they can still refute the allegations in court.

“Task Force PhilHealth” handed its 177-page report on its month-long investigation into the state insurer.

Beyond the 30-day deadline given to the panel, its composite teams meanwhile will pursue deeper probes into “specific acts of fraud or corruption committed by health providers and PhilHealth personnel alike.”

While Duterte approved the task force's recommendation which include filing of complaints, the Rules of Court does not state that an approval from the president must be first secured before raps may be filed.

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