‘Practically admitting guilt:’ Sotto advises Duque to get a ‘good lawyer’
MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III should hire a “good lawyer” should he insist not knowing the release of funds under the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation’s (PhilHealth) controversy-mired interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM), Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.
Duque would be “practically admitting guilt” to the malversation of funds if he would claim ignorance to the PhilHealth resolution authorizing the release of billions of IRM funds, Sotto told reporters in an online interview.
The Senate Committee of the Whole earlier also recommended the filing of malversation as well as graft and corruption charges against Duque and several others over the “illegal” implementation of PhilHealth’s IRM.
But the health chief, who serves as PhilHealth board’s ex-officio chairman, has since dismissed these findings as “baseless.”
Duque said he was implicated in the IRM fund distribution when he “was not even part of the deliberation and did not sign the said resolution” that authorized it. The IRM is an emergency cash advance measure of PhilHealth to provide hospitals with a crisis fund to respond to natural disasters, calamities as well as other unexpected events.
But Sotto pointed out that even if Duque did not sign the resolution, the health secretary should have been aware that billions of funds are being released by PhilHealth.
“Pagpalagay na natin na hindi mo alam, it’s not a good idea. I think Secretary Duque should get a good lawyer because he’s practically admitting guilt to [Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code] ‘pag sinabi niyang hindi niya alam,” the senator said in the online interview.
According to Sotto, Article 217 (Malversation) of the Revised Penal Code provides that “any public officer who, by reason of the duties of his office, is accountable for public funds or property, shall appropriate the same, or shall take or misappropriate or shall consent, or through abandonment or negligence, shall permit any other person to take such public funds or property, wholly or partially, shall be guilty of the misappropriation or malversation of such funds or property.”
“In other words, through abandonment or negligence. Ano ibig sabihin no’n? Mula nung March nagre-release kayo ng P14.8 billion hanggang June. Chairman ka ng board, ang ibig sabihin non [tapos] ‘di mo alam?” Sotto said.
“The chairman leads the direction and the agenda of the board so hindi pwedeng sabihin na hindi mo alam,” Sotto said.
In sponsoring the Senate Committee of the Whole report during Tuesday’s plenary session, Sotto had noted that PhilHealth released over P14 billion of funds through the IRM from March to June this year.
But he said PhilHealth did not have “any legal justification” when they implemented the IRM as early as March.
This is because the standard operating procedures (SOP) on the release of the IRM funds were disseminated only on April 22, 2020, or a month after the memorandum circular on the IRM was issued on March 21, he pointed out.
Within the gap from the release of the IRM circular to the issuance of the SOP, 279 hospitals already received IRM funds, according to Sotto.
But the committee, he said, deemed the release of the funds to these hospitals as irregular since the SOP was “belatedly enacted.”
“The IRM releases to these 279 hospitals prior to such time (April 22) were irregularly made as they did not have the SOP on how the same will be released and processed at that time,” Sotto said.
Further, he noted that before the IRM circular could take effect, it should first be published in a newspaper of general circulation and that three certified true copies had been furnished the Office of National Administrative Register (ONAR) of the UP Law Center.
But the IRM circular was only filed with ONAR on June 11, 2020, according to Sotto.
“This would mean that the IRM effectivity is deemed valid only on 11 June 2020. Thus, we submit that the total IRM releases amounting to [over P14 billion] from March 25 until 9 June 2020 were deemed illegal and invalid,” Sotto said.[ac]