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PhilHealth scam whistleblowers granted witness protection

MANILA, Philippines — The two whistleblowers in a “ghost dialysis” scam that unraveled irregularities at Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and forced the resignation of its top officials have been provisionally admitted into the government’s witness protection program (WPP), Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Wednesday.

Edwin Roberto and Liezel Aileen de Leon, former employees of WellMed Dialysis Center, were placed on Tuesday under state protection for 90 days while Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors continued to investigate other WellMed officers.

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They have been detained at the National Bureau of Investigation since their arrest on June 10 along with WellMed owner Bryan Sy. A week later, all three were charged with 17 counts of estafa through falsification of public documents in the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.

Sy has denied the charges.

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Seven other WellMed executives, who have yet to be arrested by the NBI, will also undergo preliminary investigation by the DOJ. They are Claro Sy, Therese Francesca Tan-Sy, John Ray Gonzales, Alvin Sy, Dick Ong, Porsha Natividad and Joemie Soriano.

Roberto and De Leon gave away the scam through which  WellMed collected claims from PhilHealth using the names of patients who had died or discontinued the treatment. It is estimated that WellMed collected more than P800,000 from the scam.

Good for 90 days

“They were provisionally admitted into the WPP, good for 90 days, pending preliminary investigation by the DOJ of the seven other WellMed executives,” Guevarra said.

Guevarra said their full acceptance into the WPP would be decided following the preliminary investigation to be conducted by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Anna Noreen Devanadera.

The whistleblowers’ lawyer, Harry Roque, said on Wednesday that his clients learned about the DOJ decision to include them in WPP on the day they were supposed to be transferred from NBI custody to the Quezon City jail.

Roque said they had been moved from the NBI to a government safe house.

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Once fully admitted into the program, the two will no longer be prosecuted and will serve as witnesses for the state.

“Rightfully so for it was their testimonies that showed the nation the scale and scope of corruption within PhilHealth, which is now the biggest threat in the effective implementation of my law on universal health care (UHC),” Roque, who sponsored the UHC when he was a Kabayan party list representative, told the Inquirer.

He said he would file on Thursday a motion to discharge De Leon and Roberto from the case and for state custody now that they have been admitted as witnesses.

Ona proposal

A three-part Inquirer investigative report on their claims and other irregularities in PhilHealth led to a shakeup in the state health insurer and forced the resignation of its president and CEO, Roy Ferrer, and other members of its board.

To prevent future scams and fraudulent benefit claims, former Health Secretary Enrique Ona on Wednesday proposed improving PhilHealth’s information technology system and the introduction of a national ID.

These would easily provide the state insurance company with information on its beneficiaries from both the private and public health sectors, Ona told reporters.

For instance, death certificates could be immediately obtained by PhilHealth, which currently relies on hospitals for reports of patients’ deaths. This was one loophole supposedly exploited by WellMed.

PhilHealth has said that it was working with the Philippine Statistics Authority on a memorandum of agreement that would help the state insurer to immediately determine whether a health care provider falsely filed claims.

“We need a more advanced and sophisticated IT system,” Ona said. “That would be our insurance in diminishing the so-called abuses or corruption in our health system.” —WITH A REPORT FROM JOVIC YEE

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