Two composite teams of a presidential task force will zero in on the information technology (IT) and legal departments of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) to determine if more officials should be charged for the multibillion-peso fund mess at the agency.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Wednesday the composite teams of Task Force PhilHealth must finish their reports in 30 days before the Department of Justice can determine if there is enough evidence to file additional complaints against other PhilHealth officials.
Guevarra said they would also wait for new PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Dante Gierran to assume his new post within the week before the composite teams are dispatched to conduct a deeper investigation into the corruption allegations at the state health insurer.
“We’ll ask the composite teams to finish their investigations on the IT and Legal sectors in 30 days. Then we’ll prepare the complaints if there’s enough evidentiary basis,” Guevarra said.
Seven PhilHealth officials, including resigned president and chief executive Ricardo Morales, will face criminal and administrative charges after Task Force PhilHealth submitted its initial findings to President Rodrigo Duterte, who approved the report on Monday.
However, the report left out Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and PhilHealth Senior Vice President for Legal Sector Rodolfo del Rosario Jr.
According to the DOJ chief, each composite team would have representatives from five agencies. Both teams would have representatives from the DOJ, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
The fifth member for the IT composite team should come from the DOJ’s Office of Cybercrime (OOC), while the Office of the Special Assistant to the President (OSAP) would become the fifth member in the Legal composite team.
Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said these teams would need 30 days to fulfill the task given to them since they would be doing the leg work and visiting the PhilHealth offices in the regions.
Perete said the documents that the task force received from their witnesses and resource persons were just leads that need to be verified by documents to establish a paper trail.
He said the task force also used the report prepared by the Senate Committee of the Whole, which also investigated PhilHealth and recommended charges against top officials of the corporation, as well as Duque, who sits as chairman of the board.
Perete said they were taking measures to prevent the destruction of evidence, and that they had investigated PhilHealth’s regional office in Ilocos, which reported water damage to computers and files.
Forensic experts on digital technology were dispatched to reconstruct important evidence, he said.
“We are still continuing our investigation if the evidence that we would be able to unearth and discover would show that they have any liability just like the others, the commensurate complaints would have to be filed against them. We will be guided by the evidence,” Perete said.
In its report, the task force said it found there was negligence on the part of the PhilHealth board, but the requirement under the Graft and Corrupt Practices Act is that there should be “gross negligence.”
During the course of their investigation, they focused on three matters, namely the approval and implementation of the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM); the approval of budgets for the purchase of information and communications technology (ICT) equipment; and the corporate policies and practices that fail to check, investigate, prosecute and penalize the wrongdoing of PhilHealth personnel as well as health care institutions and professionals.
Del Rosario on Wednesday said he hoped the information he shared with the task force would be helpful in its investigation.
In an interview on Dobol B sa a News TV, Del Rosario said he has considered seeking inclusion in the government Witness Protection Program (WPP) but said no offer has yet been made to him.
Del Rosario resigned last month the Office of the Ombudsman ordered him suspended based on a complaint that he said stemmed from his actions against erring PhilHealth officials.
Del Rosario said the information he shared did not involve the IRM or the IT system but involved “external fraud” that has been going on for years.
Duque, meanwhile, slammed Senate President Vicente Sotto III for seeking criminal charges against him.
“I do not understand why the Senate president keeps harping on me when I have not committed any crime or violation of any law,” Duque said in a statement sent to the House reporters.
Duque also appealed to Sotto to “stop hitting him like a punching bag,” saying: “My family is hurting already.”
“Senator Sotto, you are a family man so let me point this to you in clear and uncertain terms: my family is hurting already, I am sacrificing my health because of the demands of the job. I quietly do my job to the best of my ability but if I fall short, your way is to step on me and to continually hit me like a punching bag? Is this your brand of public service?”
Duque maintained his innocence even as he also cited a Senate inquiry conducted by Senator Richard Gordon who chairs the Blue Ribbon Committee, which said there was not enough evidence against him to file criminal charges.
He also hit Sotto for trying to make him look guilty of wrongdoing when there was no evidence of this.
“The problem with some legislators is they look for something to support their conclusions and start hitting you in public. Is the Senate President now a lawyer, judge and jury that if something does not suit him, he conjures things?” Duque said.
In a press conference in Camp Crame, Duque also said he was never negligent as chairman of the PhilHealth board.
“I’ve said this, I’ll say it again, the board of PhilHealth is a collegial body. There is no one person who makes the decision. It is a consensus that is being built over policy issues,” Duque said.
“I can say, I was not negligent. I did not ignore, I did not neglect my duties and responsibilities as chairman of the board. It’s just that really the President declared a state of public health emergency in February and I have been chair by way of executive order. I have been assigned or tasked to head the inter-agency task force,” Duque said.
Duque said he is a part of a lot of task forces, public boards, and various committees.
“It is impossible for me to attend to all of these... that’s why I rely on my undersecretaries and assistant secretaries to represent me and I always trust them to do their jobs in the best possible way,” Duque said.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, in a virtual press briefing, said the DOH was thankful that the President continued to have faith in Duque, saying it would be difficult to change leaders in the middle of a pandemic.