Fakery of PhilHealth receipts to OFWs evades POEA scrutiny
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), which could have sanctioned recruitment agencies involved in the issuance of fake receipts of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), was largely unaware of the scheme that has defrauded more than 7,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) since 2015.
According to the POEA’s legal department, no case has been filed against any agency for issuing fake PhilHealth official receipts (PORs).
Asked if there had been reports or instructions from PhilHealth to address the issue, POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia said he could not remember any. “If there were, I would have ordered an investigation,” he told the Inquirer. “What we are currently addressing are the fake OECs (overseas employment certificates), and that [issue] is with the Bureau of Immigration.”
Given the extent of the fraud committed against the Philippines’ modern-day heroes, why was the POEA left out of the loop?
“Eli,” a PhilHealth employee who had been monitoring cases involving fake PORs, said that since the scheme was first detected in September 2015, some officials had either deliberately or secretly “suppressed” efforts to investigate it.
If it weren’t for back-channeling efforts, he said, former PhilHealth president Alex Padilla would not have learned of the scheme five months after the first case was reported.
Padilla sought the assistance of the National Bureau of Investigation in February 2016. Three months later, complaint affidavits were filed against the recruitment agencies IExcel Manpower Corp. and LML Human Resources, Eli said.
By August 2016, five more recruitment agencies had been implicated in the scheme, including Marveleca Bautista-Jauod’s agency Greenworld Placement Services (see the third part of the series, June 21). The others were: 5-Star Recruitment, FORS International, Ovation Arts and Skills, and Mivian International.
To date, 15 counts of administrative complaints have been filed in the NBI against POEA-accredited hiring agencies for land-based workers, Eli said. But none has been sanctioned so far.
Take the case of IExcel Manpower Corp. In 2016, Eli detected 788 fake PORs issued by the agency, amounting to P1.7 million worth of unremitted PhilHealth premiums.
A liaison officer of IExcel has admitted to facilitating the scheme. Out of the P2,400 premium paid by each OFW, P900 goes to the supplier of the fake POR and the rest is pocketed by the liaison officer.
On Nov. 8, 2016, officials of PhilHealth’s legal sector and its National Capital Region (NCR) office told IExcel to remit the missing premiums. But IExcel did not fully comply with the order.
Efforts to further unravel the scheme stalled during the term of acting president and chief executive officer Ramon Aristoza Jr., who, Eli alleged, told the NCR office that it would “not have any role in the fact-finding efforts on the fake POR cases.”
Aristoza was replaced by Hildegardes Dineros in March 2017, after reportedly losing the PhilHealth board’s trust and confidence. But a month later, Dineros was booted out amid a supposed rift between her and then Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial.
With Celestina dela Serna at the helm of PhilHealth, Eli said, a “breakthrough” occurred when she ordered the formation of an ad hoc committee to look into the fake POR cases in May 2017. Then senior vice president John Basa and then regional vice president Dennis Mas were named to head the committee.
Still, the committee was unable to function and succeeded only in endorsing the issue to the legal sector for “fact finding,” Eli said, adding that no inquiry was ever launched.
The committee was revamped twice—in June 2017 when Mas was replaced, and then in October 2017 when Basa resigned his post. Basa and Mas now occupy the highest positions in PhilHealth.
Following the sacking last week of PhilHealth acting president and CEO Roy Ferrer, Basa was designated by President Duterte as officer in charge. Mas is now the senior vice president for the management services sector.
After the departure of Basa and Mas, the ad hoc committee basically did not function anymore, Eli said. He noted that in November 2017, committee head Narisa Sugay wrote to Dela Serna to seek clarification on what its function was, despite her being a member since it was formed.
Eli said the ad hoc committee failed to submit a report on the fake PORs at the end of the 100 days it was given to do so. A nonconformity, corrective and preventive action report (NCPAR) was then filed against the committee in April 2018, as part of the recourse provided under PhilHealth’s International Organization for Standardization certification.
In response to the NCPAR, the committee blamed Dela Serna for its failure to submit a report as she supposedly did not respond to the query regarding its function.
“To ask about their function was the height of gross incompetence,” Eli said. “They should have raised the issue of function at the moment that the body was formed, not in the middle of the investigation.”
‘It died down’
Inaction on the fake PORs persisted under Ferrer’s administration, Eli said. A document obtained by the Inquirer showed that in July 2018, Basa effectively shelved the issue when he sent the reports on the fake receipts back to the NCR office, “for future reference.”
Sought for comment, Mas said that to his knowledge, the issuance of fake receipts had stopped. “We haven’t heard anything about it since,” Mas said. “It died down because we intensified our campaign telling OFWs to just pay [their premiums] directly to PhilHealth and not send their money to anyone else.”
Mas said that when he left the NCR office as its vice president in October 2017, only 396 receipts were confirmed to be fake, amounting to an unremitted premium of P950,400.
He said that of the 17 agencies found to have issued fake PORs, two paid PhilHealth a total of P201,600 covering 84 OFWs.
Mas said he couldn’t understand why he was being implicated in and blamed for the scheme when he had done his job to address it.
“My office [then didn’t] have any collection function. It is not part of my work to monitor details [of collection]. I was the vice president, so my concern was to monitor collections, case processing. That’s why when [a whistleblower complaint] was filed against me, it was dismissed because it had no basis,” he said, adding: “I value my integrity.”
But according to Mas, one of the ways to put an end to the issue of fake receipts is for the POEA to revert to its previous policy on the issuance of OECs. Prior to the issuance of POEA Advisory No. 6, an OFW can leave the country only if he/she has paid the necessary fees, as well as the PhilHealth and Home Mutual Development Fund premiums.
In a statement on Thursday, PhilHealth said that as of last May, it had collected from the agencies a total of P208,800 out of the close to P1.3 million in unremitted premiums. As to the balance, the state insurer said it was either “awaiting settlement, with final demand letter [or] already endorsed to Legal Service of the PhilHealth NCR.”
Mas said it was also “wrong” to say that all of the 7,257 OFWs purportedly victimized in the scheme were issued fake receipts. He said some of these cases involved unremitted premiums.
“What we can really call fake receipts are those that, when traced in our system, are found to have already been issued [to another member],” Mas said.
Eli stressed, however, that an agency’s nonremittance is often a telltale sign that a fake receipt has been issued to an OFW it had deployed. “They started out as nonremitting cases only,” he said. “When we billed them, their defense was that they paid for the OFWs in question and attached photocopies of receipts that turned out to be falsified.”
Jockeying for positions
Asked why there appeared to be a concerted effort to hush the issue of fake PORs, Eli could only speculate: “I have no evidence to prove that PhilHealth officers are being bribed. But why are they so zealous to put down investigations into [the scheme]? What I have is circumstantial evidence only—that they just want to get promoted. That is how it is in PhilHealth. They’re just jockeying for positions to benefit themselves, not really to do public service.”
“I could no longer fight when I was demoted,” Eli said. “I was planning on filing a motion at the Supreme Court to force it to take on the case. But it’s costly and complicated. I think I have done everything that I can to do the right thing.”
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