DOJ chief on PhilHealth raps: Justice slow, but will be served
The day of reckoning has just started for corrupt officials of Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Wednesday, promising a string of criminal and administrative cases in connection with irregularities costing billions of pesos that brought the state insurer to the brink of financial collapse.
“We want to convey the message to the people that the anticorruption campaign of the government is a continuing effort,” he told the Inquirer. “While our system of justice grinds rather slowly, we can assure that it works and that justice will eventually be served.”
Guevarra made the statement after a task force led by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) earlier this week moved to slap criminal and administrative charges against senior PhilHealth officials, including its former president and CEO Ricardo Morales.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday said the government must keep up the campaign to hold accountable everyone involved in fleecing PhilHealth in the middle of a pandemic.
“This is one good reason why the Senate must keep going in performing our oversight function as our collective responsibility to the people of the Philippines,” he said, referring to last year’s inquiry into alleged irregularities in the state health insurance agency by the senators.
On Tuesday, the interagency Task Force PhilHealth endorsed the filing of administrative and criminal complaints in the Office of the Ombudsman against 25 PhilHealth officials for the “ghost” and “double claims” racket.
Its recommendation was based on findings of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission, which conducted its own investigation into several fraudulent schemes that resulted in the loss of about P154 billion in PhilHealth funds since 2013.
The probe followed the Inquirer’s June 2019 three-part investigative report on irregularities in PhilHealth.
On Monday, a similar charge of graft and malversation of public funds was filed by the NBI against Morales and other ranking officials of the state insurer.
The NBI alleged that Morales, who resigned in August last year amid the Senate inquiry, and his former subordinates provided “unwarranted benefits” B. Braun Avitum Philippines Inc., a private dialysis service provider.
It said Morales and the others “conspired” to unlawfully facilitate the release to B. Braun of P33.8 million in emergency funds that were taken from the P30-billion Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM), which was specifically allocated for treating COVID-19 patients.
It was the second complaint that the NBI had filed against the resigned PhilHealth chief regarding the supposed misuse of the IRM, which the state insurer intended to help public and private healthcare institutions that were dealing with the pandemic.
In October last year, the NBI brought a criminal complaint in the Ombudsman also against Morales and eight senior PhilHealth executives in connection with the alleged irregular release of IRM funds to dozens of hospitals.
Morales had previously denied flouting the antigraft law and other existing rules in awarding financial assistance to B. Braun and other hospitals, despite several of them having pending cases with PhilHealth.
“Modesty aside, most of the pieces of evidence used by the (NBI) were culled from the materials that we submitted to the (DOJ),” Lacson said.
Last year, Lacson filed Senate Resolution 475 which called for an inquiry by the Senate Committee of the Whole into the “alleged rampant corruption, incompetence and inefficiency” in the PhilHealth amid the pandemic.
After the inquiry, senators called for the prosecution of those involved in the alleged corruption and mismanagement in PhilHealth, led by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
“We can only hope that this case reaches its logical conclusion to make all those who, without a shred of conscience in their bones, took advantage of a deadly virus to fleece government of funds intended to respond to an unprecedented health crisis that we continue to grapple with,” he said.
The filing of the complaint by the NBI should build public trust on the DOJ and the justice secretary, Lacson said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Senate concurred with the filing of the charges.
“[That is] Precisely what the Committee of the Whole of the Senate said,” Sotto said at the weekly Kapihan sa Manila sa Manila Bay online forum.
Guevarra, who was designated by President Duterte to lead the sweeping anticorruption campaign in the government, said the DOJ-led Task Force Against Corruption would now train its sights on “other agencies where corruption is likewise prevalent.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.