Duterte orders task force to probe alleged PhilHealth anomalies

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 7) — President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the creation of a multi-agency task force to investigate executives of the government health insurance agency amid allegations of corruption, Malacanang said on Friday.

"The President is exasperated. Gusto na niyang matigi ang corruption sa PhilHealth at gusto niyang may ngipin ang task force na binuo niya," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

[Translation: He wants the corruption in PhilHealth to end. He wanted a powerful task force to investigate it.]

The task force to be convened by the Department of Justice will include top officials from the Office of the Ombudsman, Commission on Audit, Civil Service Commission, Office of the Executive Secretary, Office of the President, and the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission.

It will have the power to investigate, conduct lifestyle checks, and preventively suspend PhilHealth personnel.

"Ang imbestigasyon na ito, kasama na ang preventive suspension. Huwag kayong mag-alala, nakinig po ang Presidente at umakto," Roque said.

[Translation: This investigation will include preventive suspension. The President is listening to your appeals.]

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra confirmed receiving the order on Friday, and has formed Task Force PhilHealth.

The task force should submit to Duterte its findings and proposed legal actions against erring officials within 30 days.

PhilHealth faced marathon investigations in Congress this week. Among the issues raised in the Senate and House hearings is the alleged questionable distribution of the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism funds, a cash aid program seen to help healthcare institutions reeling from the COVID-19 crisis. A former official also claimed that executives have stolen some ₱15 billion from the agency using different fraudulent schemes. PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales was also questioned for approving a "bloated" budget for the agency's IT equipment and software.

RELATED: PhilHealth chief Morales admits lapses as senators grill his leadership

On Friday, PhilHealth denied these allegations, saying that board member Alejandro Cabading was "confused" for saying that the IT department has reduced its budget to ₱1.9 billion.

Despite all these issues, the Palace said Duterte still has trust and confidence in Morales to lead the agency. Roque said Duterte has not talked to Morales recently and no discussions will happen between the President and his appointee for the time being.

"Ang Presidente ngayon ay mas concerned sa pangangalap ng katotohanan. Dahil ang ginawa niya ay isang legal remedy, wala nang dahilan para kausapin si General Morales," the spokesman said.

[Translation: The President is more concerned about uncovering the truth. He opted for a legal remedy so there is no reason for him to talk to Morales.]