SEN. Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday said he has reason to believe that Ricardo Morales, president and chief executive officer of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), has become part of the agency’s syndicate, based on the testimonies of two of three whistleblowers.
In a virtual interview with members of the media, Lacson also disclosed that a Senate witness in the alleged irregularities at PhilHealth has backed out.
Lacson said it very unlikely for a head of agency or corporation to ignore allegations of corruption when he has been informed of it by the agency’s officers.
“Kung isang taon ka na riyan at nariyan pa rin ang corruption at parang walang nangyayari, dalawa lang ang possibilities — either you are being misled and you continue to be misled by your people or co-opted ka na (If you have been in an agency for one year and corruption still persists, there two possibilities — either you are being misled and you continue to be misled by your people or you were co-opted),” Lacson said.
Morales has denied coddling wrongdoers in PhilHealth.
Lacson said Morales should have solved the corruption issues in PhilHealth the very day he was appointed as its head.
He also said Thorrson Montes Keith and board member Alejandro Cabading believe Morales has become part of the syndicate because corruption in PhilHealth has not been stopped.
He said Morales has committed the sin of omission when he ignored information about irregularities in PhilHealth. Lacson also wondered why Morales did not order an investigation when the PhilHealth chief himself admitted that the corporation lost at least P10 billion due to fraud.
Lacson said what was even surprising during the Senate hearing on Tuesday was how Morales and the other resource persons answered the questions of the senators.
He said Etrobal Laborte, Morales’ head executive assistant, has flagged the procurement of 15 computer system network switches for P320,000 each when the market price was only P62,424 per unit.
Lacson said Morales could not give a direct answer during the hearing as to discrepancies in pricing. “Tuwing tatanungin sila, they were beating around the bush, hindi diretso ang sagot… Kung ako magbibigay ng initial, kasi di pa concluded ang hearing, initially makikita mo na hindi talaga sila naging forthright sa sagot nila. Paikot-ikot kami (Each time they were asked a question, they were beating around the bush. They cannot give a direct answer…If I were to give an initial [findings], because the hearing is not yet over, initially you can see that they were not forthright in their answers. We are running in circles),” he said.
WITNESS BACKED OUT
Lacson also said Etrobal Laborte, resigned head executive assistant of Morales, backed out the last minute from testifying at the Senate hearing for fear of his safety.
He said Laborte was seen to have logged-in during the hybrid hearing but left a few minutes later without testifying.
“After the meeting (hearing) nagpasabi siya through a common contact na kung puwede beg off na lang siya, hindi na siya mag-testify for several reasons, among them yung physical security (After the meeting, Laborte conveyed a message through a common contact that he begged off as witness, he will not testify anymore for several reasons, among them is his physical security),” Lacson said.
Before the Senate hearing, Lacson said Laborte was enthusiastic to tell all he knew about the PhilHealth irregularities but apparently changed his mind as Laborte felt like being always “followed.” He said Laborte did not say where the threat was coming from.
He said Laborte’s withdrawal will somehow affect issues against PhilHealth officials since the resigned official has a lot of information to share documents which Laborte gave the Senate can substantiate claims of massive corruption in PhilHealth.
Lacson said the Senate can “force” Laborte to testify by issuing him a subpoena but will first try to convince the latter to appear before the next Senate hearing scheduled Tuesday next week.
He said he will also push the granting of legislative immunity and physical security of the three whistle blowers.
Laborte was the one who disclosed PhilHealth’s anomalous procurement of 15 computer system network switches priced at P320,000 each when its market price is just P62,424 per unit.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said if anyone could provide proof of corruption in PhilHealth, it could change President Duterte’s trust and confidence in the officials of the agency, including Morales.
“According to Senator Bong Go, he (President Duterte) still does (trusts Morales) but he wants to see the evidence. If there’s evidence that would affect his trust and confidence, then of course it could change.” He said.
Roque, before returning as spokesman, filed complaints against PhilHealth officials over alleged irregularities including “ghost” claims, and overpriced purchase of information technology equipment.
The agency is also being questioned for alleged overpriced coronavirus test kits while some officials were accused of pocketing billions of pesos.
PACC Commissioner Greco Belgica said his agency has recommended the firing or filing of cases before the Ombudsman against 36 PhilHealth officials over alleged irregularities in the agency.
Belgica did not give names and other details.
Belgica said PhilHealth has lost some P153 billion due to overpayments and fraud since 2013. He said some of the irregularities include fraudulent claims or “overpriced claims. — With Jocelyn Montemayor