House panels recommend PhilHealth raps vs Duque, Morales
The committees on public accounts and good government and on public accountability approved the report of their technical working group that found Duque and four other Cabinet members Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III liable for violating Section 3 of Republic Act (RA) No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code on the illegal use of public funds for being members of the PhilHealth board.
Geremy Pintolo, file
House panels recommend PhilHealth raps vs Duque, Morales
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - October 28, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The House joint panel that investigated allegations of corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. yesterday formally recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, former PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales and 14 other officials.

The committees on public accounts and good government and on public accountability approved the report of their technical working group that found Duque and four other Cabinet members Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III liable for violating Section 3 of Republic Act (RA) No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code on the illegal use of public funds for being members of the PhilHealth board.

The same criminal charges were likewise recommended against Morales, former PhilHealth president Roy Ferrer, executive vice president and chief operating officer Arnel de Jesus, senior vice president for the health finance policy sector Israel Pargas, former senior vice president for the legal sector Rodolfo del Rosario and senior manager for the Internal Legal Department Rogelio Pocallan Jr. as member of the executive committee of the agency.

Also found liable for the same offenses were PhilHealth board members Maria Graciela Blas Gonzaga, Susan Mercado, Alejandro Cabading and Marlene Padua.

Several lawmakers had pushed for the removal of the Cabinet members from the list of respondents, but were outvoted by a majority in the joint panel. They instead decided to just separate the cases against the PhilHealth board and the executive committee.

According to the report, the criminal liabilities stemmed from the controversial interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM) that allowed PhilHealth to issue cash advances to healthcare institutions.

They said while the IRM’s legal basis remains unclear, PhilHealth pushed ahead with the release of some P15 billion worth of funds to various healthcare providers nationwide.

“In what is arguably the most notorious instance of corruption to date that is connected to the corporation, PhilHealth officials involved in the illegal disbursement of public funds through this mechanism anchor their defense on blurry interpretations of the law, none of which will hold water in court,” read the panel report released after the hearing.

“In summary, while PhilHealth claims it is struggling financially due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and asserts that its remaining actuarial life is down to one year, the joint committees find, based on the data provided in the several submissions of PhilHealth, that PhilHealth has been overspending on COVID-19,” it further stressed.

Administrative charges

The panel also recommended the filing of administrative charges against Duque, former interim PhilHealth president and CEO Celestina Ma. Jude dela Serna and other executives for mishandling the cases of Cebu-based Perpetual Succor Hospital, Cardinal Santos Medical Center and Wellmed Dialysis and other health care providers.

Morales, on the other hand, was found administratively liable for allowing PhilHealth to hire De Jesus as executive vice president and COO despite the latter’s lack of eligibility.

The joint panel will send its report and recommendations to the Department of Justice, which headed an inter-agency task force that also investigated alleged PhilHealth corruption, for further study.

Meanwhile, Quezon City 5th district Rep. Alfred Vargas slammed PhilHealth for failure to deliver on its promise to pay Philippine Red Cross its nearly P1-billion obligation last Monday.

Vargas said PhilHealth’s failure to fulfill its promise could worsen the public’s disillusionment with the state-run health insurer.

“This is shameful behavior that stains the government’s reputation. PhilHealth has a lot of explaining to do over this mess. They even promised, but in the end did not fulfill it,” he stressed.

Vargas warned that the agency’s continued refusal to settle its debt with PRC would result in additional costs to both OFWs and the government.

“We already have close to 6,000 OFWs stranded and more than a thousand expected arrivals daily. For each day that they are stranded due to quarantine the government spends more. In the end, our countrymen suffer and will be on the losing end,” he lamented.

Not off the hook yet

Earlier yesterday in his televised address, President Duterte said the 43 PhilHealth officials who resigned over allegations of anomalies are not yet off the hook.

The President reiterated he is dead serious about pursuing his campaign against corruption to the finish and that he was not joking when he declared he would go after corrupt officials in PhilHealth.

“First, I said, I will go after you, those in PhilHealth. And I made good on what I said. Many have been removed. But let me remind everybody in this government that your resignation will not save your neck,” Duterte said.

Resigning does not absolve erring officials of liability, he stressed.

“Alam mo bakit? (You know why?) You are not allowed to resign if there is pending case against you. If you resign and you won’t report but then you would be summoned or subpoenaed because you are already out of government, but because for all intents and purposes, you are still a part of government. You are not allowed to resign to escape liability,” he said.

The 43 PhilHealth officials resigned after Dante Gierran took over as head of the state insurer.  Morales resigned amid corruption issues, citing health reasons.

“Kasi nakita ko sa PhilHealth puro resignation dito, resignation doon. Sinasabi ko maganda man ‘yan para makatulog ka siguro. Hindi ka na mag-report ng opisina (I see many resignations here, left and right. It’s good, so you get a good sleep. You don’t have to report to office),” he said.

“But if you think that it will save you from criminal prosecution or administrative because you are still considered an employee, that resignation will not help you at all. Let us be clear on that,” the President said. – Christina Mendez

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