MANILA - Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Wednesday said Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) president Ricardo Morales' perceived "lies" during a Senate investigation cast doubt on the credibility of the former general who is accused of tolerating corruption in the state-run insurance firm.
Morales gave conflicting statements while under oath during the Senate's investigation into the alleged irregularities in PhilHealth.
"Mabigat 'yun (That holds a lot of weight.). I don't think it's a small lie," Sotto told reporters in an online press conference.
"He should have been very careful sa mga sinasagot niya. Hindi natin alam ngayon kung kailan siya nagsasabi ng totoo," the Senate President said.
(He should have been very careful with his answers. Now we don't know if and when he is telling the truth.)
Morales first told senators that he approved the promotion of 5 officials linked to the ghost dialysis scam because there were no cases filed against them.
The PhilHealth chief later on recanted his statement after Sotto showed proof that the said officials were charged with graft, usurpation of judicial functions, and grave misconduct over the release of funds for the dialysis treatment of dead patients.
Sotto noted that this was not the first lie from Morales.
The PhilHealth chief earlier said in a radio program that he did not attend a Zoom meeting where a verbal tussle ensued among PhilHealth officials, but later on told senators that he was present during the said meeting.
Morales said he must have been misquoted or his answer may have been taken out of context, but Sotto provided a transcript of the interview showing that the PhilHealth president really lied to journalists in the said interview.
"You are talking to a radio announcer and the people are listening to you... You should not lie. Ganun kasimple ang usapan (It's that simple)," Sotto said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Morales' answers showed the PhilHealth chief's "character" and "integrity," noting that the former general also lied about employing anti-fraud officers in the state-run agency.
"'Pag sa media ka nagsinungaling blatantly, wala ka nang kapag-a-pag-asang paniwalaan kasi isusulat na 'yan at ie-ere na 'yan," Lacson said.
(If you blatantly lie in the media, you have no hope of redeeming your credibility because your lies will be reported and aired.)
"'Di mo mababawi unless habulin mo lahat at sabihin na, 'Teka muna, mali,'" he said.
(You cannot take your lies back unless you go after all the media and tell them, 'Wait, I said something wrong.')
BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT
The Senate will suspend giving conclusions about Morales' conflicting statement until the second part of the chamber's investigation next week, where the PhilHealth may "come clean", Sotto said.
"May possibility na napapaikutan siya at yung sinasabi sa kaniya, hindi accurate, hindi tama... Pero baka nandun ako [leaning] sa prinoproteksyunan niya ang mga nakapaligid sa kaniya," the senator said.
(There is a possibility that he is being surrounded by crooked employees and the information given to him is inaccurate or is incorrect... But I am also leaning into the possibility that he is trying to protect those around him.)
"I hope that is not true... I'm still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt," he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte will not fire Morales unless " there’s evidence" of corruption, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said.
Lacson said several whistleblowers are expected to submit documentary evidence to the Senate next week that may implicate Morales and other PhilHealth executives.
Should there be no evidence against Morales, Duterte should still be informed that the man he assigned to stem corruption in PhilHealth was "clueless" about the irregularities happening around him, Sotto said.