A joint panel at the House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a 65-page committee report to hold Health Secretary Francisco Duque III accountable for supposed widespread corruption within the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. including implicated other Cabinet officials.
But in his weekly address, President Rodrigo Duterte once again stood up for Duque, accused as the “godfather of the PhilHealth mafia, saying the health chief did not steal any money and was innocent of all the accusations.
Duterte said he had been advised to let Duque go, but the President did not pay this any attention, saying the secretary was a hardworking government official.
“Congress asked me to suspend Duque, I said ‘For what?’…What ground would I base my decision?” Duterte asked.
“Would I just obey the cry of one million as against my assessment on Duque who did not steal ….maybe some other things, he might be [in] some other things. But corruption, Money ? Nothing,” he added.
The House committees on public accounts as well as good government and public accountability also wanted to file criminal charged against ex-PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales and other PhilHealth officials for the illegal fund releases under the now-suspended interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM).
The joint panel will transmit its report to the Department of Justice for further study.
Duque as a PhilHealth ex-officio board member, Morales, Arnel de Jesus as executive vice president and chief operating officer, Israel Pargas as senior vice president for the health finance policy sector, resigned Rodolfo del Rosario as senior vice president for the legal sector and Rogelio Pocallan Jr. as senior manager for the Internal Legal Department have been accused of violation of Section 3 of Republic Act 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.
The joint panel also want similar charges to be filed against PhilHealth board—Justice Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and other members: Maria Graciela Blas Gonzaga, Susan Mercado, Alejandro Cabading and Marlene Padua.
“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,” the panel report said.
Both committees recommended the filing of an administrative complaint against Morales for allowing PhilHealth to hire De Jesus as executive vice president and COO despite the lack of qualifications.
Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor, committee on public accounts chairperson, recommended the possible filing of a plunder case for some P170 million worth of funds lost due to PhilHealth’s decision not to collect penalties.
The IRM is a system where PhilHealth pays hospitals and health-care facilities in advance for insurance claims to ensure that they could function during a crisis.
But investigations showed the IRM funds were instead transferred to dialysis centers, infirmaries and maternity centers.
Resigned PhilHealth anti-fraud officer Thorsson Montes Keith blew the whistle about the PhilHealth "mafia” composed of the executive committee allegedly stealing P15 billion through fraudulent schemes, including those involving the IRM.
Duterte said the PhilHealth scandal probe did not yield anything sufficient to charge Duque for the agency's corrupt practices, such as buying computers that were astonishingly overpriced.
An inter-agency task force created on the President's orders had recommended the filing of charges against former PhilHealth president and CEO Morales and other officials following the investigation.
Duque was not included in the initial complaint, to the dismay of legislators who have been clamoring for his resignation and prosecution due to his alleged involvement in the anomalies in the state health insurer.