Senator Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has been "cleared of any wrongdoing" by President Rodrigo Duterte, even as Senate President Vicente Sotto III insisted the Chief Executive should talk to lawmakers and not just listen to Duque's "excuses."
"With his appointed chief investigator to his right and one of those being accused in the PhilHealth mess to his left, he cleared the accused of any wrongdoing. End of story," Lacson said on Twitter, referring to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Duque.
Guevarra and Duque were both with the President on Monday night, when Duterte once again vouched for the Health secretary in a televised meeting and told him he should not resign.
Still, Sotto said Duterte should talk to the senators and not simply listen to the excuses offered by Duque, who has been implicated in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. corruption issue and criticized for his handling of the country's coronavirus crisis.
Better yet, Sotto said, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea should have the President read the Senate Committee of the Whole findings on the corruption in PhilHealth, which Duque heads as board chairman.
Sotto added that perhaps the President was unaware of the facts that linked Duque to the irregularities in PhilHealth.
He said those who are aware of the illegal transactions at PhilHealth—including Duque—are answerable under the Revised Penal Code, even though the Health secretary claims he never signed a board resolution on the issue.
Although Lacson acknowledged the Palace is not bound by the Senate’s findings, he said it bears watching how the Justice department-led task force looking into corruption allegations at PhilHealth will treat those findings and recommendations.
Lacson is among two senators who sakd there is not enough evidence to prove the criminal liability of Duque in the corruption at PhilHealth. He has called for Duque’s resignation, however, on the basis of his poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Senate Committee of the Whole led by Sotto said Duque should be indicted for the questionable release of PhilHealth funds through the agency’s interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM).
Senator Richard Gordon also believes there is no enough evidence against Duque so he should not be blamed for the allegedly questionable release of funds through the IRM.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Monday said the task force is set to release its report next week to the President, including possible administrative and criminal charges against erring officials.
"By September 14, we (the task force) should be able to submit to you (President Duterte) our report and findings including administrative and/or criminal cases against persons in PhilHealth who will.. be found to be responsible for anomalies or irregularities," Guevarra said in a televised meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte.
He added that for the rest of the week, the task force composed of representatives of the Office of the Ombudsman, Commission on Audit, Civil Service Commission, Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission, Office of the Special Assistant to the President, Anti-Money Laundering Council, National Bureau of Investigation, and National Prosecution Service, would consolidate all information gathered during the seven hearings conducted.
Guevarra said the task force ended its probe Monday but the various composite teams would continue building up on the possible cases, if warranted, that could stand in court. In the meantime, he said the goal would be to provide a bird's eye view of the problem within the corporation.
"Building up (a case) will probably require more time," Guevarra said.
During the hearings, some witnesses who were former PhilHealth officials revealed different fraudulent schemes allegedly employed through the years by PhilHealth officers and employees, both in its main and regional offices, in collusion with some doctors and hospitals, and even banks, which act as remittance centers.
Aside from the task force, the Senate also conducted its probe into the state insurer's controversies and ended its hearings last month.
Duque said he is “overwhelmed” by Duterte’s continued trust and support, inspiring to work harder.
In a televised address Monday, the President told Duque this is not the time for him to resign.
“I have heard stories about, you’re going to resign. I have full trust in you,” Duterte said.
“There’s an investigation going on, let it be, if you’re not guilty of corruption…my enemy here is corruption,” the President added.
In a Twitter post, Duque said, "I am overwhelmed. Our President’s continued trust and support inspires us to work even harder.
The DOH chief, whose resignation or replacement in the DOH has been demanded by majority of the senators and various sectors, also thanked his “DOH family” for “working tirelessly” amid the pandemic.
The President said he is confident that Duque is not corrupt even as he did not give the same blanket defense as to the issue of negligence on the part of the Health chief.