Amid a growing corruption scandal at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), Ombudsman Samuel Martires has ordered a six-month suspension for 13 officials of the state-run health insurance agency.
The senior officials covered by the preventive-suspension order were Dennis Mas, senior vice president for management services; Shirley Domingo, vice president in charge of the Corporate Affairs Group; Senior Vice President Rodolfo del Rosario Jr.; Leila Tuazon, acting senior manager in charge of the Audit Department; and Clementine Bautista, vice president in charge of the Quality Assurance Group.
Also suspended were Roy Ferrer, Celestina Maria Jude dela Serna, Raul Dominic Badilla, Israel Pargas, Angelito Grande, Lawrence Mijares, Eugenio Donatos II and Ruben Basa. Their positions were not indicated in the suspension order.
While the House, Senate and a task force formed by the Palace are all investigating several allegations of corruption at PhilHealth, it was unclear which of these cases caused the suspensions.
PhilHealth officials said they have yet to receive a copy of the suspension order.
“As of this time, the concerned officers are not aware of the charges against them. We will issue a full statement as soon as we get hold of the said order,” PhilHealth said in its social media post.
Sources said the Ombudsman order was independent of the investigations of the agency that are still ongoing.
Meanwhile, Senator Panfilo Lacson said the Senate Committee of the Whole is ready to recommend the filing of charges against several PhilHealth officials for the violation of the Revised Penal Code, the Tax Code and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
“Of course we will turn over to the DOJ all the pieces of evidence that we have unearthed in the course of the weekly hearings conducted,” he said, referring to the Department of Justice.
At the same time, he said, they would collate individual recommendations from the senators on what legislation might be needed to prevent the systemic corruption at the state-run agency.
These range from a reorganization and restructuring of the agency to its dissolution.
The Senate convened on Tuesday for the third public hearing on the allegations of widespread corruption in PhilHealth.
At an earlier hearing, it was revealed that about P15 billion funds have been stolen from PhilHealth.
Senate President Vicente Sotto said Wednesday he is waiting for President Rodrigo Duterte to get mad at PhilHealth officials who have been accused of pocketing billions of pesos from PhilHealth funds using various schemes.
“I think the Executive Department should do something about them, short of bringing in the Marines,” Sotto said.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, meanwhile, said the Commission on Audit and the National Bureau of Investigation had noted the lack of cooperation on PhilHealth’s part to submit important records need for the ongoing investigations.
Because of this, Zubiri said, it was time for the Office of the President to step in.
“They should move quickly so these records can be secured and before they can be tampered, altered or lost by unscrupulous individuals within the agency,” Zubiri said.
Meanwhile, a congresswoman filed a bill that authorizes the President to reorganize PhilHealth, including the privatization of its services, “to make it more effective in delivering services to the public.”
Marikina City Rep. Stella Quimbo filed House Bill 7429, or the Social Health Insurance Crisis Act, although inquiries into alleged irregularities at PhilHealth at both chambers of Congress are still ongoing.
The bill gives the President the power to privatize the entire PhilHealth or some of its services.
Quimbo said the bill also provides for the establishment of the Executive-Legislative Social Health Insurance Crisis Commission to reorganize the PhilHealth and contract a transition management team from the private sector to implement the National Insurance Program under the Universal Health Care Law.
The Senate leader said he intends to file a resolution to ask the executive department to immediately suspend officials, particularly those who refuse to take a leave of absence and hamper and obstruct the investigations.
Senator Grace Poe said it’s time to change the PhilHealth leadership to preserve the integrity and resources of the state insurer.
She also said a purge at the agency would adhere to the administration’s policy of zero-tolerance for corruption.
The Senate on Wednesday adopted a resolution urging President Rodrigo Duterte to immediately suspend several PhilHealth officials for their involvement in the alleged corruption and fraudulent schemes in the agency and for the delay or refusal to submit pertinent documents to the National Bureau of Investigation and the Commission on Audit.
According to the resolution, allowing the officials to remain in the office would give them time to tamper with, conceal or destroy important records needed in the investigations of the NBI, COA, the Ombudsman, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Also on Wednesday, the Philippine Hospitals Association of the Philippines (PHAP), a group of private hospitals, said PhilHealth should settle some P3 billion in unpaid reimbursement claims.
PhilHealth owes this amount to 200 out of the 700 members of PHAP , said its president, Rustico Jimenez, in an interview on ABS-CBN’ s TeleRadyo.
PHAP’s 500 other member-hospitals have yet to compute how much they should receive from PhilHealth because they are still swamped with coronavirus cases, Jimenez said.
However, PhilHealth said that it regularly pays hospitals and does not have any debt, said Jimenez.
“We are asking for a third party auditor so they will know who is right: PhilHealth or us,” he said in Filipino.
Whistleblowers in a Senate hearing accused PhilHealth officials of pocketing at least P15 billion in public funds and approving overpriced projects.
PhilHealth officials have denied the allegations.
Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III, as chairman of PhilHealth, and its board have issued a directive to the state health insurance agency’s managers to review the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM) in light of the issues raised in the Senate and in the House of Representatives.
“Confusion has arisen from the circulars issued in the haste to readily provide the needed financial support to the health care institutions during the pandemic. Let us look into any loopholes and clarify procedures to ensure that the issues raised are responded to,” he said.
The IRM is a special prepayment mechanism allowed for health care institutions directly affected by a calamity or emergency. With PNA
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