Duterte forms task force to investigate PhilHealth anomalies

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 07 2020 12:13 PM | Updated as of Aug 07 2020 03:24 PM

A man looks at the sign of a PhilHealth local office in Quezon City, June 7, 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA (2ND UPDATE)-- President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the formation of a task force to investigate anomalies in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth), Malacañang said Friday, following claims of corruption against officials of the state-run health insurer.

The task force will be headed by the Department of Justice, with members from the Office of the Ombudsman, Office of the Executive Secretary, Office of the Special Assistant to the President, the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Audit, and the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), Duterte's spokesperson Harry Roque said.

"Nakinig po ang ating Presidente at umakto bagama't wala pa pong mapapatunayan sa mabilis na panahon, mayroon naman pong preventive suspension para mapangalagaan ang kaban ng PhilHealth," Roque said during a Palace press briefing.

(Our President listened and while nothing can be proven that quickly, there's a preventive suspension to protect PhilHealth funds.)

The President's order was enclosed in an Aug. 7 memorandum to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who is required to submit the findings and recommendations of the task force within 30 days of its formation.

"During the course of the investigation, if warranted, the panel may recommend to the President the imposition of preventive suspension on any PhilHealth official to ensure the unhampered conduct of the investigation," the memorandum read.

Aside from ordering a preventive suspension, Roque said the task force is authorized to conduct lifestyle checks and file charges against "thieves" in PhilHealth. 

Duterte ordered the creation of a task force even as the PACC had already submitted an initial report on its corruption investigation on PhilHealth, with cases being prepared against 36 "high-ranking and mid-level" officials over violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

The commission earlier said there were systemic flaws in the agency, allowing a cycle of corruption to persist.

 'EXASPERATED' DUTERTE

Duterte sought the investigation into PhilHealth as he has become "exasperated" with the persistent corruption allegations hounding the state insurer despite numerous legislative inquiries, Roque said.

"Si Presidente is exasperated. Gusto na niya talagang matigil itong korapsyon sa PhilHealth at gusto na niya talagang may ngipin itong task force na binuo niya," he added.

(The President is exasperated and wants corruption in PhilHealth to end that's why he formed a task force with teeth.)

The state health insurer came under fire after its resigned anti-fraud officer, lawyer Thorrsson Montes Keith, went public with allegations of corruption, saying some PhilHealth officials pocketed around P15 billion in funds through various schemes. 

He also claimed that several items for the agency's IT department were overpriced by the millions.

PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales on Tuesday admitted to lawmakers that his efforts to weed out corruption in the state health insurance firm were not enough.

"Hindi po sapat ang aking ginagawa... Inaamin ko ho, kulang ako sa paghanap ng mga gumagawa ng katiwalian. Marami pa rin sila," he said during a Senate inquiry.

(What I've been doing is not enough. I admit, I haven't done enough to look for those involved in corruption. There's still many of them.)

All officials of PhilHealth, including its president Ricardo Morales, will be afforded due process by the task force, Roque said.

"Their positions will be heard and all the evidence will be processed by this body," Roque said, adding that officials behind anomalies will be held accountable. 

Morales, who was tasked by President Duterte to rid PhilHealth of corruption, is pushing to overhaul the agency's current information system to curb fraudulent activities.

Roque on Tuesday said the President would not fire Morales, among retired generals in the administration, unless there is corruption evidence against him.

"Ang mensahe po sa mga buwaya ng PhilHealth: tapos na po ang maliligayang araw niyo diyan. Goodbye," Roque said.

(The message to crocodiles in PhilHealth: your happy days are over. Goodbye.)