8 PhilHealth execs suspended over ‘anomalous’ release of COVID-19 funds

By: Gabriel Pabico Lalu – Reporter / @GabrielLaluINQ

The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the preventive suspension of eight officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) for disbursing COVID-19 funds to hospitals not handling coronavirus cases.

In an order signed by Ombudsman Samuel Martires on Wednesday, the eight PhilHealth officials were identified as Arnel de Jesus, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer; Renato Limsiaco, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Fund Management Sector; Dr. Ismael Francis Pargas, Senior Vice President, Health Finance Policy Sector; Gregorio Rulloda, Area Vice President II, concurrent Vice President, PhilHealth Regional Office-National Capital Region; Dr. Imelda Trinidad de Vera-Pe, Head, Benefits Administration Section; Lolita Tuliao Manager, PRO-NCR Central Branch; Lailani Padua, Fiscal Controller II; and Gemma Sibucao, Fiscal Examiner A.

Their preventive suspension from work will be for six months and without pay to ensure the impartial conduct of investigations on PhilHealth’s interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM).

The state insurer put up the IRM funds to supposedly provide for fortuitous events like the COVID-19 pandemic — which means only PhilHealth facilities handling patients stricken by the latest coronavirus strain should receive the funding.

But it was revealed that IRM funds were also allocated to health facilities not handling COVID-19 patients — like maternity clinics and dialysis centers.

PhilHealth officials have claimed the IRM funds were “not pocketed by anyone”. But other government officials, including Senator Panfilo Lacson, have warned that it may have opened avenues for corruption.

Martires’ order against the eight PhilHealth officials was the latest in a string of actions that the Ombudsman has done within the week. On Monday, Martires ordered the suspension of 44 Bureau of Immigration officials involved in the “Pastillas scheme.”

After that, the Ombudsman suspended five Department of Health officials for the late release of benefits for health workers.

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