Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the National Bureau of Investigation, with endorsement from the Department of Justice (DOJ), on Friday filed in the Office of the Ombudsman a string of criminal complaints against nine former and current officials of Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) allegedly involved in the misuse of the controversial interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM).
Named respondents were former PhilHealth President and Chief Executive Officer Ricardo Morales, incumbent Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Arnel de Jesus, Senior Vice Presidents Renato Limsiaco Jr. and Israel Francis Pargas, Vice President for PhilHealth Regional Office National Capital Region (NCR) Gregorio Rulloda, PhilHealth Regional Office NCR Central Branch Manager Lolita Tuliao, and other executives identified as Imelda Trinidad de Vera-Pe, Gemma Sibucao and Lailani Padua.
Morales’ successor, Dante Gierran, has ordered the mass resignation of PhilHealth’s senior officials, in compliance with a board resolution issued last year and President Duterte’s order to “cleanse” PhilHealth.
Guevarra said the complaints filed were for violation of Sections 3 (e) and 3 (i) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, malversation of public funds or property, and violations of Sections 251, 255 and 272 of the New Internal Revenue Code and Section 4 of Republic Act No. 1051 in connection with the questionable grant of advances to a number of health-care institutions in the NCR pursuant to the IRM.
RA 1051 requires all government agencies, corporations and local governments to deduct and withhold taxes from payments to private individuals or businesses.
Some of the 30-billion IRM funds were allegedly released to hospitals that had not treated COVID-19 patients which the emergency measure was intended for.
“More complaints will be filed in the next few days/weeks against erring PhilHealth personnel and their cohorts,” Guevarra said.
Guevarra headed the government interagency Task Force PhilHealth, which earlier submitted an initial report to the President on the alleged corruption and other irregularities at the state-owned health insurance company.
According to Cesar Bacani, the NBI NCR director, investigators found basis to hold Morales and the other officials liable for malversation and graft after they released funds prior to the effectivity of the IRM circular.
“What we filed was endorsed by the DOJ,” said Bacani, who filed the complaint in the Office of the Ombudsman on Friday afternoon.
The NBI’s officer in charge Eric Distor earlier formed the NBI’s own Task Force PhilHealth to probe into the allegations, audit PhilHealth’s finances, and conduct lifestyle checks on its officials and employees in line with Guevarra’s directive.
The task force is composed of agents and investigators from the NBI’s Anti-Graft Division, Anti-Fraud Division, Special Operations Group, Special Action Unit, Computer Crimes Division and Digital Forensic Laboratory.
The alleged corruption in PhilHealth was exposed by former antifraud legal officer Thorsson Montes Keith who said the health insurer’s executive committee were members of a “mafia” or “syndicate” that allegedly made off with P15 billion from the state-run corporation.
Morales stepped down as president of PhilHealth on Aug. 26. Two other top executives of the agency have tendered their resignations also that month—Senior Vice President for Legal Sector Rodolfo del Rosario Jr. and Vice President for Operations Augustus de Villa.
According to PhilHealth spokesperson Rey Baleña, officials at the state insurer holding a Salary Grade 26 post and above will submit their courtesy resignations.
‘A fresh start’
Gierran issued the memorandum implementing Board Resolution No. 2457 on Sept. 30 for compliance on or before Oct. 5.
“This is pursuant to the directive of President Duterte to cleanse the corporation of dishonest people, thus giving PhilHealth a fresh start to stay true to its mandate,” Baleña said.
PhilHealth currently has 66 officials with Salary Grade 26 and above, but Baleña said a sizable number of them only hold their posts in acting capacity.
In August, Morales told senators that he did not implement the board resolution ordering the mass resignation of top officials because “in my opinion it would be too disruptive to the corporation.”
Gierran’s order came in the wake of Duterte’s threat that he would ask Congress to abolish PhilHealth due to persistent allegations of fraud and corruption.
Malacañang is backing Gierran’s mass resignation directive as the “fastest way” to reorganize the state health insurer, according to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.
Roque noted that Gierran, a former director of the NBI, was given only until the end of 2020 to rid the PhilHealth of corruption.
“Atty. Gierran knows that he does not have much time. That’s why I think it was important for him to request all the senior executives to file their courtesy resignation, because that’s the fastest way that he can reorganize,” Roque said on Friday.
“We support this initiative of Atty. Gierran. We are confident that he will have very good information that would guide him on whose resignation to accept … I hope, too, that he will be guided by the Senate findings as well as the findings of Task Force PhilHealth,” he said in an interview with CNN Philippines on Friday.
The President last month approved Task Force PhilHealth’s recommendation to file administrative and criminal cases against Morales and several other senior PhilHealth officials.
On Monday night, Duterte said he will ask Congress to abolish PhilHealth in a “surgical move” to end corruption in the state-run corporation.
He proposed replacing the PhilHealth with a new, simpler agency instead of privatizing it, saying it has no funds left.
Roque opposes privatizing the state health insurer as that will be “antithetical and inconsistent with the concept of universal health care.”
“Universal health care is distinguished from private health insurance because it is the discharge of a state obligation to promote the right to health. It is a commitment that although members will have to pay their dues, in reality, the dues will not be enough and the balance will of course be paid for by government,” Roque said.
He recalled that he proposed the abolition of the PhilHealth and its replacement with a National Health Service when he was a member of the House of Representatives.
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