The Palace said Sunday there is no turning back on its investigation of allegations of corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), even as some of the agency's executives said they might skip Senate hearings for “health reasons.”
READ: Recto: Constant audit, appointment of resident Ombudsman to prevent corruption at PhilHealth
In a statement, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the task force organized by the Department of Justice would proceed with its mandate to investigate the allegations.
The task force has 30 days after its constitution to submit its findings and recommendations to the Office of the President."
Last week, the President's anti-crime commission said it submitted an initial report on its investigation and said cases were being prepared against 36 high-ranking and mid-level officials for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Sunday said all investigations into the anomalies and corruption in PhilHealth would be expedited, including the multi-billion-peso fraudulent claims for dialysis and other medical treatment of health care company Wellmed.
READ: PhilHealth funds dwindle, exec quits
“Given the limited period to submit a report with recommendations for legal action, we shall give preferential attention to the investigation of alleged irregularities that could reasonably be completed within the given time frame,” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters.
“I will request the rest of the Task Force members to identify these ongoing investigations that may be actually expedited and completed within the period. I hope the Wellmed ghost dialysis claims case is one of them,” he added.
Guevarra made the statement after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the DOJ to lead a task force that would investigate and put an end to the corruption in PhilHealth.
The task force will have as members representatives from the Office of the Ombudsman, Commission on Audit (CoA), Civil Service Commission (CSC), Office of the Executive Secretary (OES), Office of the Special Assistant to the President and the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC).
The investigation will include lifestyle checks on PhilHealth officials.
READ: 36 tied to PhilHealth mess
Duterte’s directive came after PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales admitted during a Senate hearing that about P10.2 billion of the agency’s budget was “potentially lost” to fraudulent transactions and schemes in 2019.
Guevarra said since the task force was given only 30 days to come up with a recommendation, it would zero in on alleged anomalies that are already under investigation by other agencies.
Officials of the country’ national health insurer were accused last year of conspiring with Wellmed in siphoning public funds after they approved its accreditation despite investigations into its allegedly fraudulent claims.
In August 2019, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed criminal cases against 21 officials and employees of PhilHealth in connection with the fraudulent claims for payment of dialysis and other medical treatment of members and beneficiaries.
Among those named as respondents are members of the Accreditation Sub-Committee (ASC) from PhilHealth Regional Office National Capital Region (PRO-NCR), including its branch manager.
READ: PhilHealth's Morales, De Jesus to physically skip Senate probe due to health conditions
The respondents, according to the NBI- Anti-Graft Division (NBI-AGD) are responsible in approving the accreditation of Wellmed for 2019 despite the investigation conducted by PhilHealth’s Fact-finding Investigation and Enforcement Department on the alleged fraudulent claims of Wellmed.
The NBI said they discovered that the PRO-NCR did not conduct periodic monitoring of the health care institutions such as Wellmed, as required under the National Health Insurance Act of 2013.
Furthermore, it was discovered that the ASC acted without authority in accrediting Wellmed.
The respondents, the NBI said, also gave unwarranted benefits to Wellmed in violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Guevarra said the task force investigation would not only cover the most recent COVID-19-related anomalies.
Investigations and special audits into these cases were already going on even before the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.
He said they have already coordinated with the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) and asked to be provided a copy of its initial report on PhilHealth’s irregularities.
The PACC Commissioner Greco Belgica earlier said that administratively charges are likely to be filed against 36 PhilHealth officials, while 13 of them could be charged criminally for their involvement in these irregularities.
A public policy think tank, meanwhile, is pushing for a moratorium on remittances to PhilHealth ahead of the Senate’s continuing fraud inquiry on Monday.
“Unless there is policy clarity on reforms relating to Philhealth's leadership and fund life, there should be a moratorium on compulsory remittances by members to the state health insurance firm,” said Terry Ridon, convenor of Infrawatch.
“Government’s kid glove treatment on PhilHealth executives is an absolute disservice to millions of PhilHealth members who stand to lose health benefits if the state insurer’s fund life gets sapped by next year. Their hard-earned income is better spent confronting coronavirus concerns now or availing private health insurance moving forward,” he said.
Ridon said the government will be subjecting PhilHealth members to “unacceptable sunk costs” if the state insurer will insist on receiving payments despite its precarious fund life.
Ridon said the public should be wary of the task force created to investigate Philhealth fraud.
“This will end up becoming Task Force Abswelto with the obvious constitutional infirmities in joining independent constitutional agencies in a TF headed by the executive,” he said.
“[I]t was the President himself that made the standard on the firing of presidential appointees: not a whiff of corruption. This is not even a whiff, this is a landfill. Why should a TF substitute the President’s resolve to fire his appointees, when he has done this with great abandon for so many others, for less, if not for nothing,” Ridon added.
In a statement issued Sunday, PhilHealth said Morales wanted to attend the next Senate hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 11, but could not do so because of a scheduled chemotherapy session.
"Because of his immunocompromised state as he has been suffering from lymphoma, Morales submitted his medical certificate, as required. He requested the Senate to allow him online instead of his physical presence as he is prone to infections," the statement added.
Morales' oncologist reportedly sent a medical certificate to the Senate Committee of the Whole Friday night.
Diagnosed with cancer in February of this year, Philhealth said the 67-year-old Morales has been undergoing chemotherapy. He also continues to hold office against the medical advice of his doctor to take a leave from work.
In an interview over radio dzBB on Sunday, Senator Christopher Go said he believes Morales will still cooperate with the ongoing Senate probe.
Go said the Senate Committee of the Whole should immediately finish its hearings so that PhilHealth could proceed with providing needed assistance to the public, especially to COVID-19 patients.