The Department of Justice (DoJ) will sift through evidence turned up by ongoing investigations as well as hunt for new ones as it launches its own probe of allegations that the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) is riddled with corruption.
Last week President Rodrigo Duterte ordered Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to look into the allegations.
Guevarra formed Task Force PhilHealth, which has representatives from the Office of the Ombudsman, Commission on Audit, Civil Service Commission, Office of the President and Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC).
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Anti-Money Laundering Council will also be tapped by the task force.
In a message on Sunday, Guevarra said the different agencies were working out for a strategy for the investigation.
“Some investigations had been going on even before the task force was created,” he said. “The task force will build up on what has already been done; even as it starts investigation on new allegations and lifestyle checks on certain officials and employees of Philhealth.”
The DoJ group’s work will include speeding up ongoing investigations and special audits, recommending necessary personnel movements in PhilHealth, and examine its information technology (IT) system.
There are claims that the IT system was grossly overpriced.
Guevarra said the group would file administrative and graft cases and impose preventive suspensions.
PhilHealth President and Chief Executive Officer Ricardo Morales and his top executives have already testified at a Senate inquiry.
Morales was summoned to another Senate hearing on Tuesday, but he requested that he be allowed to attend via online conferencing instead.
He was diagnosed with cancer last February and is undergoing chemotherapy.
He is concerned that his health condition makes him vulnerable to the coronavirus if he is to physically attend the hearing.
Morales continues to hold office against medical advice.
“As president and chief executive, it is my duty to represent the corporation while still physically capable. I regret that my privacy was not respected,” he said in a statement.
No turning back
On Sunday, Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said there was “no turning back” in investigating PhilHealth.
Roque, in a statement, said the DoJ task force would carry out its mandate to investigate on the allegations of corruption at PhilHealth.
“There is no turning back as we expect the Task Force to submit its findings and recommendations to the Office of the President within 30 days after its constitution,” he added.
Roque said Malacañang was leaving it to the Senate to decide if it would allow Morales not to physically attend the Tuesday hearing.
Commenting on the PhilHealth investigations, Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo stressed that officials linked to corruption allegations must be suspended while the probes were ongoing.
“While the accusations are grave and severe, there might be a need for suspension while investigations are ongoing,” she said on her weekly radio show on Sunday.
She hoped the preventive suspensions would “show that we are serious in combating corruption.”
Robredo noted that anomalies could have been immediately discovered by anti-corruption bodies, even without a whistleblower pointing it out.
Bagong Henerasyon party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera said there must first be a “thorough financial checkup” and “cleansing” before the government considers bailing out PhilHealth.
“PhilHealth should come clean about its current financial standing and must be willing to go through a cleansing process to rid the agency of corrupt officials and employees prior to any government bailout,” she added.
The House deputy majority leader was reacting to Roque’s statement that the government was ready to provide funding to ensure the survival of PhilHealth, which is the agency implementing the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act.
Herrera, one of the authors of the UHC law, welcomed the government’s assurance that “helps to allay concerns that the corruption scandal and funding problems hounding PhilHealth would delay the law’s implementation.”
“We cannot afford any delay in the implementation of the law, which guarantees equitable access to quality and affordable health care services for all Filipinos,” she said.
But with the recent corruption allegations, Herrera noted that the government must condition any emergency funding on “greater transparency, accountability and efficiency” to prevent a similar situation in the future.
“PhilHealth should not be provided additional funding unless meaningful changes are implemented to ensure it can effectively fulfill its mandate and tasks under the UHC law,” she said.