Resigned Philhealth IT expert details questionable purchases
Etrobal Laborte, the former aide of Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) President Ricardo Morales, said on Tuesday he resigned last month because he could no longer take the corruption in the agency, as he provided details of the alleged overpricing in the planned procurement of information technology equipment. “Forgive me [for resigning], sir. My conscience can no longer take what’s happening. I rather lose my job than lose my soul to the devil,” read one of Laborte’s messages to PhilHealth Board Member Alejandro Cabading, which was shown at the resumption of the Senate probe of irregularities in PhilHealth on Tuesday.
“This job is killing my soul. [It’s] a meaningless job. It’s pointless to stay in PhilHealth,” Laborte told Cabading, who also testified on the rampant fraudulent schemes allegedly perpetrated by the “mafia” of senior executives in the corporation.
His testimony belied Morales’ earlier claim that his former head executive assistant had resigned to pursue higher studies.
P200B lost since 2013
PhilHealth may have lost a total of P200 billion since 2013 “due to the lack of thorough validation and audit claims, which results in excessive releases of funds, ‘’ Greco Belgica, commissioner of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), said at the hearing.
Belgica said the “head-to-toe” fraud in PhilHealth had become too ingrained that it would require a total revamp and replacement of its board of directors, executive committee and regional offices.
Laborte, an IT expert, said he also had brought to Morales’ attention the irregular procurement projects that he and lawyer Thorrsson Montes Keith, who resigned as antifraud legal officer, had unearthed.
Morales said he considered Laborte credible until the latter testified before the Senate.
Laborte said he had reviewed previous IT contracts and had noticed that these were always awarded to a single calculated bid because only one supplier joined the bidding.
“Automatically, the contract is awarded to the bidder as single calculated bid,” he said.
Laborte also said the prices of the items being purchased had depreciated because of the slow procurement process.
Yet the bid price was always 99 percent of the approved budget of the contract, he said.
Laborte also questioned the P420,000 price for the planned purchase of 15 units of Cisco catalyst 9200-24p network switches, which he said was worth only about P62,000 at the time in reputable IT stores.
He also said the model was not that new and its price had depreciated.
PhilHealth Senior Vice President Jovita Aragona said PhilHealth was planning to purchase another model, Cisco 2960XR 24Port, for 2019.
But Laborte said this was not what was being purchased and awarded to a bidder, noting that the model Aragona mentioned was old, and had reached its end-of -life support and end-of-sales service in 2019.
The current available model is 9200, which was the one that was awarded by PhilHealth. Aragona had certified this and affixed her signature to this, Laborte said.
This prompted Sen. Panfilo Lacson to warn Aragona not to try to fool the senators as they knew how to countercheck her statements. The Senate might cite her in contempt, he said.
Aragona said only generic specifications were included in the terms of reference.
Even if the purchase of the allegedly overpriced IT equipment was aborted, officials of PhilHealth should be held accountable as the contract had been awarded and the collusion in the bidding was clear, according to Lacson.
“It’s not just overpriced, it’s grossly overpriced,” he said, adding that the collusion among the bidders was “very obvious.’’
Also at the hearing, resigned antifraud legal officer Keith said he received “illegal orders” from Morales when the latter asked him to fix the accreditation of WellMed dialysis center and of Dr. Porshia Natividad, who were linked to allegations of filing claims for ghost dialysis.
Keith said he received the orders shortly before his resignation. “I can no longer handle the illegal orders from General Morales,” he said.
Morales, he alleged, asked him to find a way for Natividad to be accredited again as a health-care provider.
Morales said his only directive to Keith concerned Natividad. He denied that he directed Keith to fix the suspended accreditation of Natividad, and said he only asked him to clarify the doctor’s allegation that her signature had been forged in the claims.
Morales said board member Marlene Padua brought to his attention the situation of Natividad. “I did not instruct him to fix it.’’
PhilHealth claims were the only source of living of many doctors, he said.
Lacson, however, said it was the job of Natividad’s defense counsel to validate if her signature had been forged, not of the PhilHealth president. Morales said he was just trying to help out.
The PhilHealth president also denied asking Keith to “massage” a case with the PACC, saying he only asked him to get in touch with the agency and clarify questions about PhilHealth’s COVID-19 test rate. INQ
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