'Bad move': Sotto warns PhilHealth against filing libel, other cases vs whistleblowers

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 10 2020 06:24 PM

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III listens as senators debate dueing the chamber's session on August 3, 2020. Joseph Vidal, Senate PRIB

MANILA - Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday said it was a "bad move" for Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) officials to file cases against former and current employees who flagged alleged irregularities in the budget of the state-run insurance agency.

Several officials of the insurance firm earlier said they would file libel and other cases against Board member Alejandro Cabading and resigned anti-fraud official Thorsson Keith who accused PhilHealth's executives of pocketing some P15 billion through the procurement of overpriced tech equipment.

"Bad move. Definitely pananakot sa mga testigo 'yun," Sotto told reporters in an online press briefing.

(Definitely they are threatening the witnesses.)

"Unsolicited advice: Be careful when you file a case of libel... Mag-ingat ka dahil baka lumabas na totoo 'yung sinabi ng testigo at oras na mabigat ang ebidensya, yari ka pa," he said.

(Be careful because if the witnesses proves that he is telling the truth, you're done.)

"It's like committing suicide," he said.

PhilHealth Senior Vice President for Legal Sector Rodolfo Del Rosario Jr. earlier said members of the executive committee would file charges against the 2 officials for violating a "confidentiality clause" in their contracts after they "revealed inside information" about the agency during the Senate hearing last week.

Keith and Cabading confirmed that a "shouting match" ensued during a Zoom meeting earlier this month over the alleged padding of the agency's IT budget.

Del Rosario's threat of filing charges over the alleged breach of the confidentiality clause "will not fly" in court, Sotto said.

"'Yung pinirmahan na non-disclosure, ano yun? Kung may nakikita kang anomalya di ka puwedeng mag-divulge kasi may pinirmahan ka? Kasama ba ang corruption [sa bawal sabihin]? Definitely, pananakot lang 'yun," he said.

(When they signed the non-disclosure, what does that include? Were the also prohibited from divulging anomalies just because they signed something? Does that include flagging corruption? Definitely, are just being threatened.)

Legislative immunity is "automatically" granted to Keith and Cabading, the Senate President said.

"Legislative immunity is incumbent upon the senate already," he said.

This means that the whistleblowers' statements during congressional deliberations cannot be used against them in court.

But Sotto noted that the immunity would be revoked once the witnesses provide falsified statements.

"It does not give him immunity if he is lying," he said.

"'Pag perjury ang charge at proven and perjury, you shed off the parliamentary immunity. Immunity is given to things discussed in parliament that are true," he said.

The Senate will resume its investigation into the alleged anomalies in PhilHealth on August 11, where more witnesses are expected to share other illegal schemes inside the state-run insurance firm.