The Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) on Tuesday disclosed that the anomalies committed in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) were “the worst” because its weekly fund releases that amount to as much as P3 billion “were exposed to corruption.”


Probe continues Sen. Panfilo Lacson (left) and Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd listen as Rodolfo del Rosario Jr., Philippine Health Insurance Corp. senior vice president, testifies during the inquiry conducted by the Committee of the Whole on Aug. 11, 2020. Contributed photo

PACC Commissioner Greco Belgica again called for the ouster of PhilHealth chief Ricardo Morales during the resumption of the Senate hearing on Tuesday.

“Kung si General Morales po ay hindi aalisin, hindi po maalis ang problema, dahil mula ulo hanggang paa ang corruption sa PhilHealth (If General Morales will not be fired, the problem of corruption will not stop because it runs from head to foot),” Belgica told senators.

“Madami na kaming inimbestigahan, kinasuhan, pinatanggal at pinakulong, pero ang isyu ng PhilHealth grabe po ito. Grabe ang nakawan, grabe ang kakapalan, grabe ang kawalanghiyaan (We have conducted several investigations, filed charges, recommended the firing of officials and put them in jail, but this issue in PhilHealth is very serious. The corruption there is really shameless),” he added.

Belgica said some P2 billion to P3 billion in weekly PhilHealth releases were exposed to corruption because the agency’s information technology (IT) system has no validation mechanism.

“The IT system na ginagamit ng PhilHealth ngayon has no validation mechanism kaya na-ma-ma-manipulate ng mga empleyado at ospital (The IT system being used by PhilHealth has no validation mechanism that is why it can be manipulated by employees and hospitals),” the PACC official said.

“Dahil walang validation mechanism, bayad lang nang bayad ang PhilHealth ng parang tanga sa mga ospital (Because there is no validation mechanism, PhilHealth keeps on paying hospitals like a fool),” he added.

Belgica claimed that PhilHealth’s Regional Office failed to file 220 fraud cases against a hospital, a move which defied the order of the central office.

He added that the Land Bank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines and some private entities offered to provide PhilHealth an external validation mechanism at no cost but the state insurer turned down such offers.

“Mahaba po ang listahan ng iniimbestigahan namin. Wala po kaming palulusutin (We have a long list of persons to be investigated. No one will be spared),” Belgica said.

The PACC is one of the presidential offices looking into alleged irregularities at PhilHealth.

PACC Chairman Dante Jimenez said the commission would continue to investigate corruption allegations in the corporation with the task force formed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“We are still undergoing investigation of all those complaints, including the P3 billion funds allegedly being released weekly, and we’re prepared to work with the task force created recently by President Duterte,” Jimenez told The Manila Times in a text message.

“The PACC has been investigating PhilHealth since we started receiving complaints in 2018 when we started to work. We’re ready to file with the Ombudsman initial complaint against some PhilHealth officials,” he added.

On August 7, Duterte ordered the creation of an inter-agency task force to investigate the corruption issues in PhilHealth.

The President, in his public address on Monday, warned that he would get rid of PhilHealth officials who would be found liable for acts of corruption.

“Itong PhilHealth, sabi ko yayariin ko kayo, maniwala kayo (I will go after you. Believe me),” he said. “Kung nakalusot kayo sa ibang president, sa akin sadsad kayo (If you got away with other presidents, you cannot escape me).”

Immunity

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon sought a law that will authorize President Rodrigo Duterte to reorganize PhilHealth to weed out corrupt officials and personnel.

The senator also recommended to the Senate Committee of the Whole to pass a bill to contract out the PhilHealth computerization program.

The committee granted legislative immunity to PhilHealth whistleblowers Alejandro Cabading, Thorrsson Montes Keith and Etrabol Laborte, who divulged the alleged corrupt practices in the agency.

Drilon said an overhaul “would provide immediate relief from all these corrupt practices which are still ongoing today and would weed out the corrupt ones. Without [such law] they are able to claim that there is no just cause for their termination because they are covered by civil service rules.”

“Our problem today is if we go through the process of civil service [rules] we cannot address the corruption. This suggestion we are submitting for consideration, but this is without prejudice to whatever criminal aspect that may have been incurred because of these corrupt practices,” he said.

Drilon raised the need “to outsource the computerization [of PhilHealth database] because their attempt to computerize is even burdened by allegations of overpricing of the IT equipment and services.”

Meanwhile, the Commission on Audit (CoA) said PhilHealth has yet to reimburse P13.7 billion out of the P14.7 billion released to hospitals through the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM).

Cleotilde Tuazon, CoA corporate government sector director, said that as of August 6, only P1 billion of the P14.7 billion fund for IRM has been liquidated.

“But it doesn’t mean that only P1 billion has been spent or expended. It is only because there is no liquidation yet so they do not know how much actually was spent and how much would be the remaining balance of this P14.7 billion,” Tuazon testified.

“That’s why we requested to fast-track the liquidation and then for those regions which have no many Covid cases they should give the balance, they should pull out those balances and give to those regions that have many Covid cases,” she said.

Drilon said the IRM was a misnomer “because these are advances being made.”

CoA Chairman Michael Aguinaldo has expressed reservations about the legal basis for the implementation of the IRM.

“As a general rule, advanced payments are restricted. These are found in the auditing Code which limits it to I think it is about 7 or 10 percent unless the President of the Philippines actually declares otherwise,” he said.

“In the case of PhilHealth my understanding is it is a system of advanced payment, but it operates more as somewhat a deposit. Sort of a pre-payment. But it is something to be liquidated. Under the Universal Health Care Act, I think this type of scheme is authorized,” he said.

The PhilHealth said the IRM aims “to provide health care institutions with emergency funds during unforeseen events like natural disasters, calamities and other fortuitous events.”

“This mechanism was previously tapped to respond to disasters that ravaged parts of the country such as that experienced during typhoons ‘Ondoy’ and ‘Yolanda’, and recently with the Taal Volcano eruption,” it added.

The agency said when the coronavirus pandemic broke in March, health care institutions, including dialysis centers and lying in clinics, were allowed to apply for IRM equivalent to their three months’ worth of benefit claims in 2019.

With Reina Tolentino AND BERNADETTE TAMAYO