Task force eyes cases vs PhilHealth officials

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    A TASK Force created by President Duterte to look into corruption at the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) will submit its findings and recommendations to President Duterte on Monday.

    The recommendations include the filing of cases against PhilHealth personnel, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Monday night during a meeting convened by the President.

    Guevarra said the task force which he heads has started a buildup of cases to be filed against the erring officials of the state health insurance firm and ensure these are “backed up by competent evidence” and could stand in court.

    “What we did during our hearings was basically to get a bird’s eye view, an overview of the problems obtaining at PhilHealth. But the matter of building up actual cases will probably require more time because we have got to gather the actual evidence, procure the necessary witnesses to support the complaints. So we are hoping that we’ll be able to file a few of these cases before we submit our report to you or maybe even after. We’ll just recommend in our report to you the filing of these cases,” he said.

    The President formed the task force in August amid investigations by the Senate and the House and following disclosure of alleged fraudulent activities in the agency, including the questionable release of funds through its interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM) program, alleged overpriced IT equipment, and overpriced coronavirus test kits, among others.

    Also during the meeting, Duterte told Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, PhilHealth board chairman, it is not the time for him to resign.

    Duque has long been facing resignation calls, including from several senators, for his alleged incompetence and alleged mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Duterte has repeatedly defended him.

    “Secretary Duque, this is not the time for you to resign… I have heard stories about you going to resign. I have full trust in you,” he said adding that Duque should also wait for the outcome of the PhilHealth probe.

    He expressed belief that Duque is not involved in corruption but if there was any negligence on the part of the health secretary, he said, it would be understandable due to the many challenges he faces in running the department.

    “What matters is ‘yung corruption. Pero kung hindi ka corrupt… you do not have any reason to resign (What matters is the corruption. If you are not corrupt, you do not have any reason to resign),” Duterte said.

    The Senate Committee of the Whole last week recommended the filing of criminal charges against Duque, and several other PhilHealth officials over questionable releases of billions of funds under the agency’s emergency cash advance measure.

    ‘CLEARED’

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson, among those who signed a Senate resolution calling for Duterte’s ouster, said Duterte virtually cleared Duque of wrongdoing.

    “With his appointed chief investigator to his right and one of those accused in the PhilHealth mess to his left, he cleared the accused of any wrongdoing. End of the story,” Lacson said referring to the Monday meeting.

    The chief investigator that Lacson was referring to was Guevarra.

    Lacson later clarified his “end of story” remark.

    “In fact, I’m hoping that the DOJ-led task force investigating the PhilHealth anomalies will continue performing its mandate, guided only by their appreciation of the evidence no matter who is involved, with or without the President’s expressed opinion on Duque,” he said.

    “I would like to think that Secretary Guevarra’s probity and adherence to the rule of law will prevail over partisanship and or other political or personal considerations,” he added.

    Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, concurrent spokesman of the Department of Health, said the DOH shares Duterte’s opinion that it is not the best time for Duque to leave his post.

    “In such a major situation for health, it is really not proper and appropriate for us to have a change in leadership, especially with us being in the middle of a pandemic,” said Vergeire.
    “He never failed in giving us the direction and leadership at the DOH. We can see how he has led the response for COVID-19. We can see how our actions over the past months is now bearing fruit,” she also said.