SENATE President Vicente Sotto III yesterday said a report of Senate Committee of the Whole on irregularities at the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) will convince President Duterte to change his mind about Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
Duque, chairman of the PhilHealth board, continues to enjoy the trust and confidence of the Chief Executive despite the panel’s move to recommend charges against him.
The Senate Committee of the Whole made public its report on Tuesday last week, recommending criminal and administrative charges for Duque, resigned PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales, a number of other ranking officials, and and employees who will be found by the NBI to have connived with the officials in the anomalies.
The following day, Malacañang snubbed the recommendations. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Duterte wanted to wait for the findings and recommendations of a task force led by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, which he said are expected to be better than the Senate’s as “evaluation of evidence and appreciation of evidence would be… far more in-depth than the Senate investigation.”
Senators on the same day interpellated Sotto on the committee findings. Senators Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon expressed reservations, saying they were not convinced that Duque is liable for malversation of public funds or property since the health secretary was not implicated by witnesses and there was no evidence Duque was involved in the IRM mess.
Sotto said committee report was drafted with the help of seasoned investigators like minority leader Franklin Drilon, and two former PNP chiefs including — Lacson and Dela Rosa.
“Ang ine-expect ko ay kapag nakita ng Pangulo yung mga punto namin, mababago ang pananaw ng Pangulo. Maaaring nagtitiwala pa rin siya pero merong mga bagay na dapat mong harapin na labag sa batas (I am expecting the President to change his mind when he sees our point. It can be that the President still trusts him [Duque] but there are things that he [Duque] must face),” Sotto said in an interview over radio dzBB,
Sotto said Duque is still liable for violation of Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code, or malversation of public funds or property, even if he did not have a direct hand in the irregular disbursements of the interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM), as the secretary claimed. He said Duque is liable because he failed to act on the anomalous disbursements.
The IRM is a program giving hospitals and other medical facilities cash to help them during “fortuitous’” events like a pandemic. Senate investigations showed funds were given to hospitals without COVID-19 patients, or to maternity and dialysis centers, among others.
Sotto said the continued trust and confidence of Duterte in Duque should not prevent the Department of Justice from filing charges against the health secretary.
He said Duque should get a good lawyer to advise on about what to say. He said Duque, by saying he knew nothing about the IRM irregularities, “is practically pleading guilty to Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code.”
Sotto added that the evidence against Duque and the other PhilHealth officials were very telling that he is confident that Guevarra will file all the charges the Senate panel has recommended.
“Masyadong obvious yung mga findings namin. Tingin ko lahat ng mga rekomendasyon namin na kasuhan nila ay ma-file-an nila talaga, both criminal charges and administrative charges (Our findings were very obvious. I think all those whom we recommended to be charged will be charged with both criminal and administrative cases),” he added.
Sotto said while Duque was right in saying that he knew nothing of the IRM funds disbursement, he should have been aware of the goings-on in PhilHealth as board chairman.
He said the Senate Committee of the Whole Report is expected to be adopted by the senators in the plenary today.