Senate has ‘strong case’ vs those involved in PhilHealth anomalies – Lacson
MANILA, Philippines — Documentary evidence and testimonies presented during a Senate investigation into fresh claims of corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) can build a strong case against those who “should be held criminally and administratively liable.”
This was according to Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who, with his colleagues, grilled PhilHealth officials over alleged anomalies in the agency during a Senate Committee of the Whole hearing on Tuesday.
During the almost 10-hour-long inquiry, senators questioned PhilHealth officials over the following issues:
- a proposed P2.1-billion information technology project, which even state auditors had earlier flagged as overpriced
- a supposedly questionable release of funds under the corporation’s Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM)
- the alleged manipulation of the corporation’s financial status
Asked if the Senate had a strong case against the PhilHealth officials involved in the anomalies, Lacson said, speaking partly in Filipino: “The answer is yes. There’s a strong case that may be filed against those who should be held criminally and administratively liable. That’s clear — not only in the testimonies but also in the documents.”
“Based on the documents that I have in my possession, I myself as an investigator even in my previous life can say that the documents would stand,” he added.
Cases of graft and corruption can be filed to those found to be involved in the alleged corruption within the agency, according to the senator.
When asked to identify the officials who should be prosecuted, Lacson refrained from issuing a categorical answer since the Senate investigation was still open.
The chamber will resume its probe into the PhilHealth mess next Tuesday, Aug. 11.
“I have my own conclusion, but it’s not for me to decide because this is the Committee of the Whole. We will incorporate [the findings] if there will be a recommendation for indictment of those possibly accountable. That’s where it will all come out,” the senator said.
“But I have my own opinion because I was there the whole time that the hearing was being conducted,” he added.
Lacson said the Senate’s committee report is “merely recommendatory.”
“Transmit namin sa Ombudsman o kaya sa Department of Justice yung aming findings sa aming inquiry. Hanggang doon lang yun,” he said.
(We can only transmit our report of our findings to the Ombudsman or the Department of Justice. That’s how far it goes.)
In a separate online interview, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales could have either been “blindsided” by his subordinates, who had been in the agency years before him, or he was protecting some of his officials.
In July 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Morales, a retired Army brigadier general, as PhilHealth president and CEO supposedly to rid the agency of corruption.
“He is either blindsided, was blindsided or he is protecting them. There’s no in-between,” Sotto said.
“At the very least, I think he was blindsided. Now I hope the other side is not true, which is he knew that it all happened,” he said, speaking partly in Filipino.
“Now that depends on your reading of his answers,” he went on. “Others think he was blindsided. Others think, based on his answers, that he’s covering up for his colleagues. You can deduce it from there.”
Lacson also had a similar observation that Morales was either being “misled” by his people or “co-opted.”
During the hearing, Morales admitted being informed by his then-executive assistant about a possible discrepancy in the proposed procurement of CISCO catalyst switches.
He still signed, however, a document to approve it, citing a presumption of regularity.
“The documents I signed go to several processes. They go to several [officials] who are supposed to do their due diligence before it reaches me for approval,” the PhilHealth chief said in the previous hearing.
“So I assumed, sir, in this case, that the figures presented to me were the right and correct figures for the items we purchased,” he added. “I assumed that there was no problem with the final price, that it was the correct amount.”
Senators had also scored Morales for promoting four officials currently facing graft complaints about their alleged involvement in the WellMed “ghost” dialysis scam that was uncovered in 2019.
Morales insisted he was unaware that complaints had been filed against the officials he had promoted.
Nevertheless, Sotto said: “Right now, I’d still give him the benefit of the doubt. There’s also the possibility that they deceived him. And if what they told him was not accurate, not correct, then they were lying,”
According to Sotto, the Senate is still drafting its committee report and will likely finish it after next week’s hearing.
“We’re still drafting some points. I’d rather not let the cat out of the bag. We’re drafting already some points that are very obvious during the hearing,” he said.
Asked whether the committee would recommend the filing of charges against those involved in issues of corruption in the state insurer, Sotto said: “Certainly. That’s really certain.”
But like Lacson, Sotto stressed that the Senate has “no prosecutorial powers.”
It would be up to the executive department to file cases, he said.
“We can recommend, but also we have the power to change the law so in aid of legislation itong hearing namin,” Sotto said, adding that he’s looking to propose amendments to the law that created PhilHealth to prevent irregularities in the future.
Sotto added that Presidential Anti-Corruption Council (PACC) Commissioner Greco Belgica would be invited to attend the next hearing to share the findings of his own investigation into the alleged PhilHealth irregularities.
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