Guevarra on PhilHealth officials under probe: 'I hope sila na ang magkusang mag-leave'

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 10 2020 07:58 PM

MANILA - Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, whose agency has been tasked to form a task force to look into alleged corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), said on Monday he hopes officials of the insurance firm being investigated will take it upon themselves to go on leave while the probe is ongoing.

"I hope sila na ang magkusang mag-leave while their agency is under intense investigation," Guevarra said in a message to reporters.

Asked who are covered, he said: "Those whose operations are currently under investigation or special audit. They know who they are."

"If they are not hiding anything, they can take a leave of absence to enable the investigators/auditors to freely complete their inquiry or examination," Guevarra said.

While there's no recommendation yet from the DOJ-led task force on a list of PhilHealth officials to be preventively suspended, the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission earlier recommended filing of charges against 36 officials following the revelation of former PhilHealth anti-fraud legal officer Thorrson Montes Keith that the state-run health insurer stole P15 billion in funds through anomalous transactions.

A PhilHealth vice president has already resigned while several other officers including President and COO Ricardo Morales have invoked various forms of illnesses to be excused from the Senate probe.

Guevarra said PhilHealth officials won't be able to cite the Data Privacy Act "to hinder the conduct of legitimate government investigations" based on the view expressed by the National Privacy Commission.

The justice chief said the DOJ team convened Monday to finalize a strategy, to be considered by the task force.

"Considering that the President directly assigned me to create the task force, I will personally oversee its operation to ensure a coordinated government action, with support from my undersecretaries and assistant secretaries and a team of DOJ lawyers acting as secretariat," he said.

"The members of the task force are presently identifying which specific investigations or audits, other than on the Wellmed issue, could be reasonably accomplished within the limited period given to the task force," he added.

Guevarra was referring to an earlier DOJ probe which found probable cause to indict WellMed co-owner Dr. Bryan Sy on 17 counts of complex crime of estafa, through falsification of public documents by allegedly faking signatures to claim PhilHealth benefits on behalf of dead patients.

A Quezon City court junked the charges in August 2019.

But the DOJ-led probe will go beyond WellMed and extend into what he called Saturday a "dense and formidable forest."

"The TASK FORCE will exert all efforts to ensure that they will not be lost in the maze and produce something in the end. However, we prefer to work quietly and get the job done without fanfare, Guevarra said.

On Sunday, he said the task force will initially tap the records of the PACC.

"Since the creation of the task force, I have been in contact with Chair Dante Jimenez and Comm. Greco Belgica, as well as with the heads of the other agencies and independent bodies mentioned in the President's memo to the DOJ. We have all agreed that while working independently, we shall closely coordinate and collaborate with each other for a focused and targeted approach," he said.

"In the case of the PACC, the DOJ has requested a copy of the PACC's initial report. The PACC is part of the task force, and the task force will make use of what the PACC has already done or build up on it further as may be necessary," he added.

The Senate will push through with its probe on the alleged corruption in the insurance agency, even after high-ranking officials filed medical leaves to skip the hearing set on Tuesday, Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday said.

Morales and Executive Vice President Arnel De Jesus have submitted their medical certificates to the Senate Committee of the Whole last week, seeking exemption from the hearings due to their health woes.

Morales, De Jesus and other PhilHealth officials are being investigated over their alleged involvement in anomalous transactions, including the purchase of overpriced computers and other tech materials, in the state-run insurance firm.

The PhilHealth chief has belied the allegations, saying several "corrupt officials" are trying to discredit the insurance firm's modernization program that would make flagging irregularities easier.