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Morales graft probe goes on

Palace: PhilHealth chief far from being cleared

Malacañang on Thursday said resigned Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) president Ricardo Morales is not yet off the hook over allegations of corruption in the state insurance firm.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque confirmed that President Duterte has accepted Morales resignation but said this would not mean he is out of the ongoing investigation.

Morales last week took a medical leave to undergo treatment for lymphoma amid investigations into the alleged widespread corruption in PhilHealth.

Despite calls to fire him, Duterte asked Morales to step down due to his medical condition.

In a Palace press briefing, Roque said public officials could still be held liable for any offense even after they vacate their post.

“The President accepted his resignation but there is no replacement yet,” Roque said.

He explained that other resigned PhilHealth officials would also be held accountable if found guilty.

“The law is very clear if there is criminal liability incurred when you’re in office it subsists and public officers can be held liable for them whether or not they continue to be in office,” he said.

Roque said the President hopes the resignation of Morales will lead to his recovery from his current ailment.

Meanwhile, the task force investigating irregularities at PhilHealth said they plan to go after all the perpetrators behind the fund mess, whether they are in office or not.

“The quiet investigation being conducted by Task Force Philhealth is running well, although we are aware that our resource persons are not telling us everything that we ought to know,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, head of the Task Force PhilHealth, said in a text message to reporters.

“At the end of this investigation, we hope to be able to build up enough cases against persons responsible for the PhilHealth mess, whether or not they continue to be in PhilHealth’s employ,” Guevarra added.

Guevarra emphasized that resignation, retirement or dismissal from service may not extinguish criminal liability for any “felonious or criminal act or omission” committed during an official’s tenure in office.

“Any resigned retired or dismissed public officer may still be held liable for any felonious or criminal act or omission committed during his or her tenure in office. Termination of service except by death, is not a mode of extinguishing criminal liability under our penal code and criminal statutes,” the DOJ chief said.

The DOJ chief made the statement when asked if Morales is still covered by the task force investigation even after he resigned amid allegations of corruption plaguing the agency, and due to his battle with lymphoma.

Congress has conducted investigations into alleged irregularities ranging from the misuse of the interim reimbursement mechanism to overpricing in the purchase of IT equipment.

Rodolfo del Rosario Jr., senior vice president of PhilHealth’s legal sector, which Guevarra said appears to be a “very ripe source of irregularities,” has also resigned.

Meanwhile, Task Force PhilHealth has flagged the low and slow rate of prosecution of cases by PhilHealth’s Legal Sector.

During its hearing on Thursday, the task force noted that thousands of cases against erring PhilHealth employees and health care institutions remain unfiled.

Del Rosario confirmed that while there are thousands of administrative cases against PhilHealth employees in the corporation’s case inventory, only 70 cases have been processed, and only 50 have resulted in the issuance of formal charges against employees. He noted a case against PhilHealth employees allegedly involved around P2.1 billion.

Del Rosario also admitted that there are around 1,700 cases in PhilHealth’s case inventory involving HCIs. According to him, his office has reviewed and endorsed 1,003 cases for filing of criminal complaints by the regional offices. However, he admitted that only 11 cases as of date have been filed. Losses related to cases involving HCIs -- which include fraudulent claims -- were estimated at around P4.7 billion.

The Governance Commission for Government-Owned and -Controlled Corporations had previously given the PhilHealth Legal Sector a zero rating in its 2017 and 2018 evaluations because of delays in the filing of cases.

Pressed to account for the Legal Sector’s performance, Del Rosario said management policy favored settlement over prosecution of cases so as not to dampen the esprit de corps. He also noted alleged limitations in resources of regional offices that prevent them from promptly filing criminal complaints against HCIs.

The Task Force had earlier created a composite team that will investigate PhilHealth’s Legal Department. The team will audit and validate the case inventory of PhilHealth, and recommend, if warranted, the commencement of administrative, civil or criminal action against the corporation’s employees and HCIs.

The board of state insurance firm Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) on Thursday named as officer-in-charge (OIC) an official who had skipped legislative inquiries on alleged corruption at the agency due to several illnesses.

Executive vice president and chief operating officer Arnel De Jesus will assume the position after President Rodrigo Duterte accepted Morales’s resignation.

De Jesus had cited heart ailments and diabetes as reasons he could not attend Senate and House hearings.

PhilHealth is facing fresh investigations over alleged corruption, prompting Morales and several officials to quit their posts.

A Senate panel on Tuesday released findings on its PhilHealth investigation, identifying alleged members of an influential “mafia” involved in corruption at the agency and recommending criminal charges against Cabinet members from the previous administration for alleged illegal fund disbursements in 2015.

Meanwhile, Duterte has accepted the resignation of Morales, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Thursday.

Duque noted that with Morales undergoing chemotherapy, staying on the job will only put him at a greater risk.

Duque also said the resignation of Ddel Rosario has also been accepted by the President.

He said, however, that their resignations do not mean Morales and Del Rosario are off the hook.

“They will have to cooperate, they have to make themselves and documents available as long as the investigation is ongoing. That [resignation] will not exempt them from obligations,” Duque said.

Duque also said the release of PhilHealth reimbursements to hospitals and other health care facilities will continue amid the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the suspension of the agency’s internal reimbursement mechanism.

PhilHealth is under investigation over the irregular release of about P15 billion in IRM funds. Investigations showed state auditors have been unable to account for P14 billion of that amount.

Topics: Philippine Health Insurance Corporation , Ricardo Morales , Rodrigo Duterte , Harry Roque , Francisco Duque , Menardo Guevarra
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