Sotto warns agencies of budget scrutiny

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    Insists Duque should be charged over PhilHealth mess

     

    BY RAYMOND AFRICA and ASHZEL HACHERO

    SENATE President Vicente Sotto III yesterday vowed to “scrutinize” proposed budgets of agencies that he said will ignore recommendations made by the Senate Committee of the Whole against officials it found liable for corruption and other anomalies at Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth).

    Sotto said the warning is addressed to agencies which “will not honor the Senate report.”

    “We will scrutinize their budgets. That’s the only power left to us if our official Senate report is not honored,” he also said.

    The Senate Committee of the Whole, which conducted hearings on the alleged anomalies at the state insurer, recently came out with a report recommending criminal and administrative charges against Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who is chairman of the PhilHealth board, and several other agency officials.

    A task force created by President Duterte, however, spared Duque in recommending charges against PhilHealth officials. The task force headed by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra submitted its recommendations to President Duterte on Monday.

    Guevarra on Tuesday said investigations are ongoing and “more people may be charged.”

    Yesterday, he said composite teams from the Department of Justice and other agencies will have a month to further investigate the alleged anomalies. He said the 30-day countdown will begin this week once former NBI Director Dante Gierran formally assumes the top PhilHealth post.

    The task force is composed of the DOJ, the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission, the National Bureau of Investigation, and the Anti-Money Laundering Council, and the Office of the Special Assistant to the President.

    Sotto said the task force could not just ignore the findings and recommendations of the Senate Committee of the Whole because these are official records which were passed in the plenary, and which clearly established the fault of each and every PhilHealth official recommended for charges.

    “Pag walang nangyari sa report namin, binale-wala nila yung Senate report, babale-walain din namin yung budget nila (If nothing happens to our report, if they ignore the Senate report, we will also ignore their budget),” Sotto told radio dzBB.

    “Iiyak sila sa budget deliberations sa amin at sa budget hearings, ginagarantiyahan ko sila… Yung mga ayaw sumunod doon sa mga rekomendasyon ng Senate report. (They will cry during the budget deliberations, during the budget hearings, that I guarantee… those who would not follow the Senate report),” he added.

    Sotto said he really could not believe the task force left Duque out, together with resigned PhilHealth senior vice president for legal sector Rodolfo del Rosario, from among the officials to be charged.

    He reiterated Duque is liable for malversation of public funds or property as the health secretary because he did not stop the irregularities in the distribution of funds from the interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM).

    He said the task force’s recommendation to just reprimand Duque is totally unacceptable.

    “Pagkatapos mong gumawa ng kasalanan, sasabihin sa iyo, warningan lang kita para hindi ka na uulit nung kasalanan. Tingnan natin (After you did something wrong, you’ll just we warned and told not to do it again? We’ll see),” he said.

    He reiterated he is hoping the Ombudsman, which has suspended several PhilHealth officials, will have a different appreciation of the Senate’s recommendations.

    He said the task force must file charges against Duque based on the findings and recommendations of the Senate panel so that the health secretary will have a fair chance of clearing himself. Otherwise, he added, the accusations will cling to Duque for the longest time.

    SPECIFIC TARGETS

    The composite teams are composed of representatives from the DOJ, NBI, Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission, Anti-Money Laundering Council and the Office of the Special Assistant to the President.

    Guevarra said the composite teams are also coordinating with a special audit team from the Commission on Audit.

    Asked what is the difference of the investigation of the composite teams from the one conducted by the task force he heads, Guevarra said it will focus on “specific targets” but he declined to elaborate.

    “Technically, the task force itself has become functus officio (of no further authority or legal effect), but the member agencies have agreed to continue investigating in a coordinated matter, focusing on specific targets,” he said.

    Guevarra said the teams may even extend their probe to incidents that happened years back.

    “The pool of alleged irregularities is not completely known at this time,” he added.

    The task force recommended the filing of criminal and administrative complaints against resigned PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales and several other PhilHealth officials in connection with the alleged anomalies in the release of the interim reimbursement mechanism funds, certain purchases particularly in the IT sectors, and failure in the accountability mechanism that allowed anomalies to happen. – With Gerard Naval