Whistleblowers seek legal immunity, Senate protection amid PhilHealth corruption probe

Sherrie Ann Torres and Dennis Gasgonia, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 08 2020 03:22 PM | Updated as of Aug 08 2020 06:07 PM

MANILA - Whistleblowers Thorrsson Montes Keith and Alejandro Cabading have sought protection and legislative immunity from the Senate, as the chamber investigates their allegations of multibillion-peso corruption at Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth).

Keith is a former anti-fraud officer at PhilHealth, while Cabading is a member of the agency's board of directors.

They testified under oath in a Senate hearing while accusing several agency officials as being part of an internal "mafia" that stole billions from the insurance firm's coffers. 

As a result, they have been threatened with libel charges.

"In accordance with existing laws and rules governing investigations in aid of legislation, we respectfully apply for legislative immunity in connection with our respective testimonies and other evidence introduced in the hearings of the Senate Committee of the Whole," the two said in their letter addressed to Senate President Tito Sotto dated August 6.

"The Committee of the Whole will please recall the threatening language used yesterday by those identified as members of the syndicate. This morning, as the Philhealth Head Office in Pasig City, one of them was boasting of filing charges against us."

Keith, who resigned in July, added he has been receiving threats after he revealed allegedly massive corruption in the state-run insurance firm in his resignation letter.

"The undersigned also respectfully requests for security considering that billions of Philippine money is involved. Also, there had been various physical threats and just today an unidentified person is asking my location and identity near my hideout," he said.

Keith and Cabading promised to present additional testimony and documents to the Senate hearing to corroborate their previous statements.

The next hearing will take place on Tuesday. Two top PhilHealth officials -- president and CEO Ricardo Morales and Executive Vice President and COO Arnel De Jesus -- sought to be excused from the next Senate hearing, citing medical conditions. 

Rodolfo Del Rosario Jr., PhilHealth Senior Vice President for Legal Sector, said in a virtual briefing they are poised to pursue legal charges against Keith.

PhilHealth is facing legislative investigations and an inter-agency task force probe over allegations of systemic corruption, with Keith saying some PhilHealth officials had 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.