‘Morales, 3 others liable for malversation, graft’

    Embattled Philhealth President Ricardo Morales. (Screengrab from GMA-TV)

    THE Senate committee of the whole has found Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) president and chief executive officer chief Ricardo Morales and three other ranking officials liable for malversation and graft, among others, in connection with alleged irregularities at the state health insurer.

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson said a committee report will be filed this week that will recommend the filing of charges against Morales, fund management sector SVP Renato Limsiaco Jr., chief information officer Jovita Aragona, and senior information and communications technology officer Calixto Gabuya.

    Lacson said the recommended charges against the four include malversation of public funds in connection with the irregular disbursement of interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM) funds, violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for making advance payments to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) for the withholding taxes on IRMs using the state insurer’s capital outlay, violation of the National Internal Revenue Code due to anomalies in withholding taxes from health care institutions (HCIs) which were given IRMs, and perjury for lying during the Senate hearings.

    Lacson noted that Morales and Limsiaco admitted during the Senate hearings that they approved the release of funds for the IRMs, while Aragona and Gabuya were involved in the overpriced purchase of IT equipment.

    Lacson said the Senate did not find any evidence to link Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in the irregularities based on the testimonies of witnesses. He added that members of the PhilHealth board were not implicated in the anomalies.

    Duque, the PhilHealth ex-officio chairman, was earlier tagged by resigned anti-fraud legal officer Thorrson Montes Keith as the “godfather” of the PhilHealth mafia. The health secretary denied the allegation.

    Also yesterday, Lacson said he was convinced that the “mafia” operating at PhilHealth is composed of members of its Executive Committee.

    The Execom is composed of PhilHealth’s senior vice presidents, which include Aragona (chief information officer), Limsiaco (fund management sector), Dennis Mas (management services sector), Rodolfo del Rosario Jr. (legal sector), Israel Francis Pargas (health finance policy sector), and Nerissa Santiago (actuarial services and risk management sector).

    “It would appear that they [members of the ExeCom] are the real mafia… I think it is not just me who thinks they are it [mafia] based on the hearings we conducted. They maneuver everything, including the overpricing [of IT equipment], and the control of funds rests on the ExeCom,” Lacson told radio dzBB.

    Lacson, however, did not specifically identify who among the ExeCom members were part of the mafia but hinted that these officials were involved in the preparation of the master list of HCIs which would get priority treatment in the disbursement of IRM funds.

    The Senate committee of the whole terminated its inquiry last week after holding three marathon hearings.

    Aside from recommending charges against the agency’s top officials, Lacson said the Senate will also recommend clipping the powers of the ExeCom and giving the PhilHealth board more power to formulate the corporation’s policy direction.