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Senate recommends filing raps vs. Morales, other PhilHealth execs —Lacson

The Senate is recommending the filing of appropriate charges, including malversation, against Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) chief Ricardo Morales and other high-ranking officials over the alleged irregularities at the state health insurer.

Senator Panfilo Lacson made the remark in a Dobol B sa News TV interview on Sunday after the Senate Committee of the Whole wrapped up its inquiry into the issue last week.

According to Lacson, among the charges that the Senate recommended to be filed against PhilHealth officials are malversation, violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, violation of the National Internal Revenue Code, and perjury.

Among those who were recommended to be charged are Morales, Fund Management Sector senior vice president Renato Limsiaco Jr., senior vice president and chief information officer Jovita Aragona, and senior ICT officer Calixto Gabuya Jr., he said.

Lacson said PhilHealth officials clearly committed malversation when they implemented the interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM) when the circular providing for it had not been deemed effective, and that funds were also transferred to dialysis centers, infirmaries, and maternity centers even if they could not be considered as responding to "fortuitous" events.

"Lumalabas na hindi pa effective 'yung implementasyon ng IRM, namigay na sila ng pera. Umabot na ng P14.9 billion ang naipamigay," he said.

"E doon sa mismong IRM, sa circular, 'yung 2020-0007, nakapaloob doon na ang date of effectivity after publication sa isang pahayagan of general circulation, tapos 'and,' hindi naman 'or,' yung pagbigay ng kopya doon sa ONAR, or Office of the National Administrative Register sa UP Law Center. June 11 'yung nakalagay doon," Lacson added.

PhilHealth senior vice president Atty. Rodolfo Del Rosario Jr. has also admitted that the release of the IRM funds before June 11 was illegal.

"Pangalawa, hindi saklaw ng fortuitous event 'yung nabigyan nila ng P226 million. Ito 'yung mga dialysis centers. Pangatlo, walang board resolution kasi in-issue 'yung IRM, March 20, pagkatapos ang dissemination date ay April 22," Lacson also said.

"Hindi naman ang sinasabi ng Committee of the Whole na huwag nating bigyan ng tulong. Ang sinasabi lang merong ibang program para doon. Sa regular benefit claims dapat nakapaloob 'yung para sa ibang mga dapat bigyan ng tulong," he added.

The senator also explained the possible violation of the National Internal Revenue Code and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

"Meron pang violation ng National Internal Revenue Code tapos may falsification pa. May anti-graft pa, 'yung RA 3019, kasi hinugot nila doon sa corporate operating budget 'yung pondo. E pera ng gobyerno 'yun. Hindi puwedeng gamitin 'yun na pambayad ng tax," he said.

Meanwhile, Aragona and Gabuya could also be held liable over the alleged overpricing of PhilHealth's ICT system, Lacson said.

Further, PhilHealth officials could also be charged for perjury, Lacson said, for lying under oath during the Senate hearing, although he did not specifically identify the instances.

Will PhilHealth board members also be charged?

Although the Senate has recommended charges against PhilHealth officials, it is up to the task force created by President Rodrigo Duterte to decide which charges will be filed, which could include plunder, Lacson said.

"Puwedeng pumasok sa plunder kaya lang mas mahirap i-prosecute ang plunder kasi nga nagkaroon ng jurisprudence," he said.

"Mas madaling ipasok sa Anti-Graft, pero wala namang magpe-prevent sa task force kasi hindi naman kami ang magfa-file ng demanda kundi 'yung task force na crineate ni Presidente na pinapangunahan ng DOJ secretary," he added.

Asked if members of the PhilHealth board like Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, could also be charged, Lacson said: "As far as the Senate [is concerned], walang nag-implicate sa board."

He instead wants to recommend to strengthen the PhilHealth board and reduce the authorities given to the executive committee.

"Sa imbestigasyon natin, ang nakita natin doon masyadong powerful 'yung executive committee. Halos 'yung board ministerial na lang sa halip na sila 'yung nagbibigay ng policy direction. At kailangan may approval o merong resolution 'yung board bago kumilos 'yung president and CEO pati execomm," he said.

"So pagbalangkas ng bagong batas, babawasan natin 'yung membership, siyempre kasi ex-officio member 'yung mga Cabinet members. Hindi naman porke lahat ng Cabinet na may kinalaman ay ipapasok diyan. Dapat piling-pili lamang — DSWD, DOLE, DBM, DOF. 'Yan talaga 'yung members ng board. Plus ex-officio 'yung DOH Secretary," he added.

GMA News Online contacted PhilHealth spokesperson Shirley Domingo but has yet to receive a reply as of posting time.

Resigned PhilHealth anti-fraud officer Thorsson Montes Keith earlier claimed that the PhilHealth "mafia," composed of the executive committee, stole some P15 billion through fraudulent schemes, including those involving the IRM.

PhilHealth, in a statement, has since denied such claims. —KG, GMA News