Lacson: Senate can initiate filing of charges vs PhilHealth officials

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    THE Senate can “initiate” the filing of charges against officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) who were not charged by the National Bureau of Investigation in connection with alleged irregularities in the agency, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said yesterday.

    The Senate committee of the whole has recommended charges against several officials, led by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, for alleged massive corruption at PhilHealth. A task force created by President Duque and led by the Department of Justice on Friday filed charges against officials of the state insurer, excluding Duque. The task force’s probe is ongoing.

    “We are keeping our options open. Puwede kami mag-initiate ng pag-file ng kaso sa mga taong hindi naisama ng task force. Wala namang magpe-prevent sa amin kung dudulog kami sa Ombudsman bilang isang body, bilang Senado o bilang Kongreso kung sasama ang HOR kasi sila mismo nagsawa rin ng malawakang imbestigasyon (We are keeping our options open. We can initiate the filing of charges against individuals who were not included by the task force. Nothing can prevent us from filing the charges before the Ombudsman as a body, as the Senate or Congress if the House of Representatives will join us since it also conducted an investigation),” Lacson in an interview with radio dzBB.

    The task force on Friday filed graft and malversation charges against a number of PhilHealth officials over the irregularities in the disbursement of funds under the interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM).

    Among those charged were resigned PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales, executive vice president and chief operating officer Arnel de Jesus, and senior vice presidents Renato Limsiaco (fund management sector) and Israel Francis Pargas (health finance policy sector).

    It was noted that Duque, PhilHealth board chairman, and Rodolfo del Rosario, senior vice president for legal sector, were not included in the charges filed by the NBI before the Ombudsman in relation with the PhilHealth anomalies.

    The Senate, which conducted hearings into the alleged anomalies, found Duque liable for malversation of public funds or property because as PhilHealth board chairman, he did not stop the illegal distribution of IRM funds worth about P14.9 billion.

    The Senate also recommended the filing of charges against del Rosario.

    Lacson said he respects the task force’s initial findings but the Senate also has separate findings on the involvement Duque and del Rosario.

    “Hindi naman ito matter kung satisfied kaming mga senador or hindi kasi ang pinagbasehan ng task force led by DOJ, ay ang ebidensiyang nakalap nila. Kami ay ibang perspective, kanya-kanyang pinanggagalingan (This is not a matter if senators are satisfied or not [with the task force’s action] because the task force led by the DOJ based its actions on the evidence it gathered. We [senators] have a different perspective, to each his own),” Lacson said.

    Lacson noted Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s statement about the task force continuing its probe. He hinted Duque and Del Rosario may still be charged based on an information from Senate President Vicente Sotto III.

    “Ayoko pangunahan ang task force pero ito na-share ni SP na nai-share sa kanya ng isang mapagkakatiwalaang source niya sa TF na sinabing aabutin ng ebidensiya si Secretary Duque pati si SVP del Rosario (I don’t want to preempt the task force but SP shared to me, based on information from SP’s trusted source at the task force, that the evidence will eventually reach Duque and SVP del Rosario),” Lacson said.

    In the event the task force will not implicate Duque, Del Rosario, and others, Lacson said the Senate can file the charges against the two officials on its own.

    Lacson urged senior PhilHealth senior officials to tender their courtesy resignations based on a memorandum issued by new PhilHealth chief Dante Gierran last Friday.

    The Senate held three hearings on the PhilHealth anomalies last August based on disclosures from Thorrson Keith, resigned anti-fraud officer; Etrobal Laborte, resigned head executive assistance; and Alejandro Cabading, PhilHealth board member.

    The three said PhilHealth officials were involved in the irregular distribution of IRM funds, which favored select health care institutions even without COVID cases; overpriced purchase of information technology equipment; and manipulation of PhilHealth financial statement.

    During one of the hearings, Keith tagged Duque as the “godfather” of the mafia operating in PhilHealth. The health secretary denied the allegation.