PhilHealth asked to return P204M in allowances

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    THE Supreme Court has dealt a blow to the bid of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) to retain birthday gifts and other allowances amounting to P204.7 million given to its employees in 2007 and 2008 as it affirmed the notices of disallowance issued by the Commission on Audit.

    In a decision dated January 28, the Court en banc also directed officials who approved and certified an “efficiency gift” worth P16.2 million to return the amount as it is covered by the notice of disallowance issued by the COA on Nov. 20, 2009, and the recipients to return the amount “since it was erroneously given to and received by them.”

    The decision penned by Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting said there was no indication that the ‘efficiency gift” was “genuinely” intended as compensation for services rendered by the recipients.

    Aside from the birthday gifts amounting to P5.97 million, also covered by the notice of disallowance are special benefit allowance amounting to P8.7 million, nominal gift (P29.5 million), education assistance (P49.28 million), project completion benefit (P4.98 million), payment of liability insurance premium for PhilHealth board of directors and officers (P638,000), corporate transition and achievement premium (P81.05 million), and medical mission critical allowance (P7.91 million).

    In issuing the notices, COA said the allowances were issued without approval from the Office of the President as required under Memorandum Order No. 20 dated June 2001 and Administrative Order No. 103 dated Aug. 31, 2004.

    The state-run health insurer appealed the COA notices but the latter denied it in July 2012. PhilHealth’s bid for a petition for review was also denied by COA in December 2016 for lack of merit.

    The Court en banc said it agreed with the COA that before PhilHealth could grant any additional benefit to its personnel, it should observe policies and guidelines.

    “Considering that the ruling of the Court on the need for approval from the OP has long been existing, the Court cannot allow Philippine Health Insurance Corporation to feign ignorance to the pronouncement,” the SC said, adding that it remained unconvinced that the PhilHealth officers “who approved the benefits in question acted in good faith when they approved and granted these benefits.”

    PhilHealth is embroiled in a multi-billion-peso alleged fund mess which is being investigated by a task force led by the Department of Justice.

    The task force has recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against seven officials of the state health insurer. A second complaint was filed last month against several officials before the Ombudsman.

    Earlier, PhilHealth president and CEO Dante Gierran said the agency has liquidated 92 percent of the P15-billion fund allegedly lost to corruption.