Senator Christopher “Bong” Go on Monday said President Rodrigo Duterte still trusts PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales despite being suspected by a resigned anti-fraud official of the agency as “the coddler or maybe the new leader of the syndicate in Philhealth.”
“As of now, the President told me he still has big trust on the integrity of Gen. Morales... But it is possible, that those under him, they should be investigated and let’s wait for the results of the investigation,” said Go in a virtual oress conference after the second regular session of the 18th Congress opened on Monday.
However, Go said the President will not hesitate to fire Morales should investigations prove his involvement in the alleged irregularities within Philhealth.
Duterte has already ordered an investigation into the alleged irregularities within the agency.
This was confirmed by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr., who said that the Palace is investigating PhilHealth officials over the agency’s alleged overpriced purchase of an information technology system worth over P2 billion.
Roque said the investigation will be headed by Undersecretary Jesus Melchor Quitain of the Office of the Special Assistant to the President.
In a separate move, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson on Monday filed Senate Resolution 475 and called for an inquiry of the Senate Committee of the Whole to investigate the alleged “rampant corruption, incompetence, inefficiency” within Philhealth.
The allegations surfaced after a controversial meeting among PhilHealth officials and Cabinet members reportedly resulted into the resignation of Philhealth officers, including anti-fraud legal officer Thorrson Nontes Keith.
Keith had accused Morales of being a “coddler or may have been the new leader of the syndicate” preying on the premiums paid by the state insurer’s members.
But Morales said that Keith was only “vengeful” after supposedly being denied a promotion.
The meeting saw some heated exchanges over the agency’s IT system and led to at least one PhilHealth official turning in his resignation letter.
“These rampant and pervasive allegations of corruption, incompetence and inefficiency have systematically impaired the management of PhilHealth to the detriment of this public institution and its members, without any remedial measures to improve competency and exact accountability, thereby endangering PhilHealth’s existence, necessitating the Senate’s intervention to prevent the corporation’s financial collapse,” the Senate resolution read.
Sotto and Lacson’s resolution also focused on three “major issues” within PhilHealth—the implementation of the interim reimbursement mechanism, the information and communication technology equipment worth P734 million flagged by the Commission on Audit, and the alleged manipulation of its financial status.
PhilHealth had said it has “nothing to hide” and that it is ready to respond to the corruption allegations linked to the agency.
Senator Francis Pangilinan also filed on Monday Senate Resolution 474 for the conduct of a Senate probe on the same matter. He said that an investigation is vital to determine the causes of the reported leakages and losses, the alleged widespread corruption in PhilHealth, and to hold officials accountable, as corrupt practices only disrupt the worsen health care delivery of health care during the COVID-19 pandemic and worsen its impacts to the detriment of Filipinos.
“The alleged corruption in PhilHealth in the middle of the worst health crisis in the country’s history indicates a disastrous disregard and dereliction of duty in ensuring the efficient delivery of health care services, and securing and protecting protect the Filipinos’ health people,” he said.
Pangilinan, whose push for the approval of the Filipino-made COVID-19 test kits lowered the price of imported test kits by 26 percent, cited several corruption issues that have confronted PhilHealth: its alleged release of hundreds of millions of pesos to some unaccredited hospitals with only few COVID-19 patients; its overpriced COVID-19 testing package which was revealed during a Senate hearing in May 2020, leading the state health insurer to lower the rate of the testing package from P8,150 to P3,409; its P154 billion losses over the years to various forms of fraud, including P102 billion in overpayment, reimbursements for “ghost dialysis,” false claims, and “upcasing” of illnesses and Commission on Audit’s flagging PhilHealth’s proposed P2.1-billion information technology project, saying the planned purchase of equipment worth P734 million was not included in the state health insurer’s original budget proposal.
Meanwhile, Keith said that he had been receiving death threats following his claims of “widespread corruption” in Philhealth. He said he is now in hiding due to fears for his life as he described Morales as an “assassin.”
“I looked at him (Morales) in Google sir, he seemed to be like a former assasin,” also said Keith.
But in a radio interview, Morales laughed off Keith’s concerns for his safety, saying that he had already turned a new leaf.
The retired Army general said he will consult his lawyer about possible legal actions on Keith’s remarks against his character. However, he advised Keith to seek “psychiatric” help as he could have been “traumatized.”
“I think he should be checked by a psychiatrist or you know the Center for National Mental Health, he can consult there . He might have been stressed or traumatized.”
Morales also challenged Keith to substantiate his allegations about his links to corruption in Philhealth.
“Maybe he should substantiate ‘yung mga accusation niya kasi very general ‘yung mga sinasabi niya. He is the anti-fraud legal officer, ‘di sana meron siyang datos,” said Morales.
“Of course, this should be investigated.The Senate and the people deserve to know the truth,” said Morales who said he will not go on leave as he is ready to face the controversy head-on.
Morales said this in response to Senator Lacson’s call for him to resign if he can’t refute the corruption allegations.
Morales said he was considering Lacson’s suggestion, but said that he may instead go on leave.
“Yes, I am considering. It doesn’t mean I’ll do it. It’s a suggestion ‘di ba,” he said.
Morales and Keith both committed to appear before a Senate investigation on the issue.
But in a separate statement, Morales said that problems of fraud and inefficiency in PhilHealth were “difficult or impossible to solve.”
He, however, said that the agency is already taking steps to address such issues.
“The problem of fraud and inefficiencies confronting PhilHealth are part of a bigger problem, what management experts call a ‘wicked problem’ - a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for at least four reasons,” Morales said.
Among the reasons Morales cited are incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the large number of people and opinions involved, the “large” economic burden, and the interconnected nature of such problems.
“Kahit linggo-linggo ho magpapalit ng president dito, hindi ho mawawala ang problemang ito,” he said.
PhilHealth is tasked to administer the National Health Insurance Program which aims to provide health insurance coverage and ensure affordable, acceptable, available, and accessible health care services to all citizens of the Philippines.