President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the creation of an inter-agency task force to probe the allegations of anomalies in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), Malacañang said Friday.
Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque said the President directed the formation of a task force composed of the Department of Justice, Office of the Ombudsman, Commission on Audit, Civil Service Commission, Office of the Executive Secretary, Undersecretary Jesus Melchor Quitain of the Office of the Special Assistant to the President and the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission.
Aside from conducting an investigation, the task force will also have the authority to do lifestyle checks and an audit of PhilHealth’s finances, recommend to the President the preventive suspension of officials, and bring the perpetrators to justice.
The task force has 30 days from its formation to submit to Malacañang its findings and recommendations, which shall include the proposed legal actions against officials and employees found responsible for corrupt activities or anomalies in PhilHealth.
“Dati rati po, paulit-ulit nag-iimbestiga ang Kamara po at ang Senado wala pong nangyayari kasi wala pong kapangyarihan ng preventive suspension,” Roque said in a televised briefing.
“So, mga kababayan huwag po kayong mag-alala, nakinig po ang ating Presidente at umakto bagamat wala pa pong mapapatunayan sa mabilis na panahon meron naman pong preventive suspension nang mapangalagaan ang kaban ng PhilHealth.”
In creating the task force, Roque said the President is exasperated over reports of corruption in PhilHealth.
“Tingin ko as a lawyer, si Presidente is exasperated, gusto na niya matigil ang korapsyon sa PhilHealth at gusto na niya na may ngipin itong task force na binuo niya,” Roque said in a televised briefing when asked for the President’s reaction to the allegations of corruption that were disclosed in a Senate inquiry on Tuesday.
“Ang mensahe po sa mga buwaya ng PhilHealth, tapos na po ang maliligayang araw ninyo diyan. Goodbye.”
Roque said the President deferred to the task force on what to do with PhilHealth officials, including the agency’s president Ricardo Morales, while the investigation is underway.
“I’m sure with the high-profile membership consisting no less of the Secretary of Justice, the Ombudsman, COA chair and CSC chair that they know how to use the power of preventive suspension correctly,” the Palace official said.
“Let’s just say the President deferred to these agencies and deferred to their appreciation of evidence on whether or not to suspend anyone preventively in the course of the investigation.”
Roque also does not see any reason for the President to talk to Morales about PhilHealth issues.
“Ang Presidente po ngayon ay mas concerned doon sa pangangalap ng katotohanan,” Roque said. “Wala na pong dahilan naman para kausapin si General Morales.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he will form a high-level task force “immediately” pursuant to the instruction from Malacañang.
“We shall base our actions on such facts as may be established and such conclusions as may be reasonably inferred therefrom,” Guevarra said in a message to reporters.
The President’s decision came in the wake of allegations that PhilHealth officials were able to steal some P15 billion from the state health insurer through several fraudulent schemes.
But in a statement issued Thursday, PhilHealth denied its officials pocketed the funds, insisting that what former anti-fraud legal officer Thorrsson Montes Keith said during a Senate hearing had no basis.
PhilHealth officials also vowed to file a libel complaint against Keith over the latter’s allegations.
Meanwhile, Morales denied during the Senate hearing on Tuesday that he has been protecting the supposed corrupt officials within his agency.
He also said he has yet to gather evidence that could stand in court against the supposed corrupt PhilHealth officials.
Malacañang, meanwhile, has said that Duterte won’t fire Morales, a retired Army general, unless there is proof that he is involved in corrupt activities. — RSJ, GMA News