Duterte OKs filing of complaints vs. Morales, other officials over PhilHealth corruption

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 15) - President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the recommendation of the Department of Justice-led (DOJ) investigating task force to file complaints against officials of Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) over the alleged anomalies inside the agency.

Duterte read the recommendations of the Task Force PhilHealth during a late Monday night briefing with other Cabinet members.

Complaints may be filed — both criminal and administrative — on key officials including former PhilHealth CEO Ricardo Morales, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Jovita Aragona, Chief Operating Officer Arnel De Jesus, Senior Vice President on Fund Management Sector Renato Limsiaco, Jr., Acting Senior Manager, Information Technology and Management Department Calixto Gabuya, Jr., and Senior Vice President on Health Finance Policy Sector Israel Pargas.

“On the issue of PhilHealth and corruption, it is really an important issue to the Filipinos and to everybody. Everybody is again is placed in jeopardy by the action of the officials,” said Duterte.

“I'm sorry for them, but they have to undergo trial...Although they can always prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” he added.

Among the issues raised on PhilHealth are the early disbursement of cash advances to COVID-19 patients prior to its effectivity in June and the procurement of allegedly overpriced IT equipment.

Justice Spokesperson and Undersecretary Markk Perete clarified on Tuesday that as soon as supporting documents are finalized, filing may be done with prosecutors for criminal complaints, with the PhilHealth itself for administrative complaints, or with the Office of the Ombudsman for administrative and criminal complaints altogether, depending on the crimes committed and the rank of involved officials.

In a statement released late Monday evening, PhilHealth said that it will await the official copy of the Task Force PhilHealth report and will submit to whatever instructions will be issued by Duterte based on the recommendations.

"The whole of PhilHealth will continue to cooperate with the subsequent investigations to be conducted by the Task Force's composite teams as well as by the other authorized agencies for the sake of truth and transparency," PhilHealth said.

Probe will continue

The DOJ said Task Force PhilHealth will still continue its probe on alleged fraudulent activities by officials of the state health insurer while awaiting further directives from Duterte.

“As the Task Force awaits any further directives from the President, its composite teams will pursue further targeted investigations of specific acts of fraud or corruption committed by health providers and PhilHealth personnel alike,” said the department in a statement.

“Meanwhile, already pending complaints and cases shall be resolved by the agencies concerned with dispatch,” it added.

The DOJ said the task force received and evaluated the testimony of 14 witnesses; reports and summaries of various cases, whether under investigation or for resolution; documents submitted by resource persons; and reports and recommendations from other bodies, including the Senate.

Meanwhile, embattled Health Secretary and PhilHealth ex-officio chairperson Francisco Duque was not in the list of people recommended to face complaints, based on what Duterte read.

The Senate Committee of the Whole has recently recommended Duque to heed the call of Senators to resign for his "failure of leadership, negligence, lack of foresight and efficiency in performing his mandate" resulting in a delayed response in addressing COVID-19, and “perceived tolerance” of alleged corruption in PhilHealth.

Last week, Duterte also advised Duque not to resign despite the allegations thrown at him.

Task Force PhilHealth conducted seven hearings lasting over 30 hours on various dates.

The DOJ said the full report cannot be released due to ongoing investigations by member-agencies of the task force. Instead, it will issue within the day a more exhaustive statement which contains major portions of the report.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.