Lawmakers eye filing charges vs. PhilHealth officials after congressional probe

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 23) - Lawmakers are considering to file criminal and administrative charges against officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) over the alleged anomalies within the state-run health insurer, a ranking congressman said Friday.

House Committee on Public Accounts chairman Rep. Mike Defensor said lawmakers found several government officials, including Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, liable for supposed wrongdoing during the joint investigation he conducted with the committee on good government and public accountability.

The joint committees will meet on October 27 to discuss the draft committee report summarizing the findings from the marathon hearings and their recommendations.

“Pag-uusapan kung magfa-file kami as a group at ano ang ifa-file naming mga kaso,” Defensor told reporters. “Dapat focus kami sa isang kaso, ano ‘yung nakikita naming problema, i-file namin agad."

[Translation: We will discuss if we will file as a group and what charges we will file. We must focus on one case, what we see as the problem, and file it immediately.]

Defensor also urged newly elected House Minority Leader Joseph Stephen Paduano to sign the committee report on the PhilHealth probe.

“Kung gusto talaga niyang sumama sa Public Accounts committee (If he really wants to join the Public Accounts committee), I am inviting him to sign the committee report and to file the case if necessary,” he said.

Paduano earlier said the public accounts committee should be led by a member from the House minority bloc.

In a 65-page draft report leaked to the media, the joint committees recommended the filing of various criminal and administrative charges against Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, four other Cabinet Secretaries and various PhilHealth officials over the interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM).

The PhilHealth board chaired by Duque approved a resolution last March which allowed the state-run health insurer to advance payments to hospitals under the IRM due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The House committees, however, found the disbursements under the IRM “excessive.” PhilHealth has advanced some P15 billion to hospitals and other healthcare facilities since the pandemic started.

“While the idea behind the IRM may be commendable, the mechanism itself is flawed and encourages large scale corruption and collusion between PhilHealth officials and HCIs, and while the program uses the term reimbursement, the IRM is actually a cash program the legal basis of which PhilHealth has failed to provide this investigative body,” the draft committee report read.

The other Cabinet Secretaries who were part of the PhilHealth board which approved the resolution on IRM were Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista.

The joint committees said former PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales, executive vice president Arnel De Jesus and several other executives should be held liable for the IRM’s implementation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.