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COA orders Philhealth in Southern Tagalog to return P20M in allowances

The Commission on Audit has ordered regional officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) in Region 4-A to refund the government P20 million worth of "excessive and extravagant" allowances granted to employees from January to December 2012.

In a decision released on Thursday, the commission proper upheld the notice of disallowance issued by the COA Corporate Government Sector in May 2013 on the various allowances and benefits of PhilHealth employees.

The COA said the PhilHealth officials "solidarily liable" to return the amount are Dr. Alberto Manduriao, Feliciana Pastorpide, Miguel Macalinao, Benjie Cuvinar, and Erlinda Pronto.

PhilHealth Region 4-A officer-in-charge Dr. Edwin Orina had urged the COA to reverse the disallowance as it will result in inequity.

Orina said the employees received the benefits in good faith, with PhilHealth using its fiscal autonomy under the PhilHealth Charter to fix the compensation of its personnel.

Among the benefits granted by the PhilHealth office include birthday gifts, medical mission and critical allowance, shuttle service allowance, transportation allowance, contractor's gift, and rice allowance.

However, the COA said the powers of PhilHealth in granting additional benefits to employees is not absolute and does not exempt the government-owned corporation from auditing rules.

"When government funds are expended in violation of law and regulations, this Commission will exercise its constitutional mandate to disallow such kind of government spending," the COA said.

The COA said PhilHealth is still mandated to secure the approval of the Office of the President first on any movements of its salary rates, allowances, and other forms of compensation.

The commission also reminded PhilHealth that majority of its operating budget comes from public subscribers and should be spent with due diligence.

"Like any other social insurance, the members’ contributions should be treated as a trust fund and must be managed and protected with utmost integrity. It is imbued with public interest, thus, the formulation of PhilHealth’s operating budget should conform to laws and regulations governing public expenditures," it said.

The COA said the employees who received the allowances are not liable for the refund, but the officials who approved the benefits should be responsible for the illegal expenditures. —NB, GMA News