Court dismisses estafa raps vs WellMed owner, officers

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 05 2019 12:07 PM

MANILA -- A Quezon City court has dismissed the criminal charges filed against the owner and other officers of WellMed Dialysis Center in connection with alleged fraudulent claims with state-run Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) for having been filed in the wrong court.

The Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 219 on Monday granted the motion to quash filed by WellMed co-owner Dr. Bryan Sy on the 17 counts of a complex crime of estafa through falsification of public document charges filed by the National Bureau of Investigation and PhilHealth against him, whistleblowers Leizel Aileen De Leon and Edwin Roberto, and other unidentified individuals.

"These cases are DISMISSED for lack of jurisdiction over the offenses charged, without prejudice to refiling before the Metropolitan Trial Court," Judge Janet Abergos-Samar said in her resolution dated August 5.

Abergos-Samar said that since the amounts which PhilHealth was allegedly defrauded only ranged from P5,200 to P39,000, the maximum imposable penalty for estafa under the Revised Penal Code is a jailtime of 2 months and 1 day to 6 months while for falsification of public or official documents by a private individual carries a maximum penalty of 2 years, 4 months and 1 day to 6 years imprisonment.

This means, according to the judge, the metropolitan trial court would have proper jurisdiction over the case because the maximum imposable penalty is only 6 years.

Under the law, only the maximum imposable penalty of the most serious offense alleged in a complex crime is considered in determining the jurisdiction of the court.

But the court, in its ruling, clarified that the criminal charges are not being dismissed because the accused are innocent.

"[T]he court emphasizes that the dismissal of these cases has nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of the accused. The cases are dismissed because based on the crime charged in the informations, and the applicable penalty, it is not the Regional Trial Court which has jurisdiction to hear and decide the cases, but the first level courts or the Metropolitan Trial Courts. The accused may still be prosecuted, and the cases may still be filed, before the said courts notwithstanding the dismissal decreed herein," the resolution said.

The Justice Department on June 14 indicted Sy after the whistleblowers claimed they obeyed Sy's instructions to prepare several PhilHealth forms and falsify these documents by "counterfeiting or imitating signatures and making untruthful statements" to claim benefits on behalf of dead patients and those who did not fully avail themselves of the entire available annual dialysis sessions.

Based on documents presented, PhilHealth paid WellMed a total of P600,600 covering 9 patients and the clinic had pending claims amounting to P208,000 for 5 patients as of March 2018, just before the whistleblowers left the clinic.

Sy has denied making any threats to the whistleblowers.