MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte has asked Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) president and CEO Ricardo Morales to leave his post because of his medical condition, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Tuesday.
This, as the state health insurer faced multiple investigations into alleged corruption at the agency. Duterte earlier refused to fire Morales, a former Army general he appointed to the post in 2019.
Morales is currently battling cancer and took a medical leave last week, skipping a Senate hearing on alleged PhilHealth anomalies.
"The president took note last night of Morales’ on-and-off health situation, and stated that it would be best for the latter and for PhilHealth to give up his post during these critical times for the agency," said Guevarra in a text message.
He said Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea earlier spoke to Morales, who "said he would understand if he had to be replaced."
“We have to find a very good replacement for him asap,” Guevarra said.
Earlier this month, Morales sent a medical certificate signed by his attending oncologist disclosing that he was undergoing cancer treatment at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center.
"He is advised to complete 6 cycles of treatment during which he will be immunocompromised and vulnerable to opportunistic infections. It is, therefore, in his best interest that I have advised him to take a leave of absence," said the oncologist, whose name was redacted on the document dated Aug. 7.
The document said Morales is suffering from Diffuse Large B cell Lymphoma. Medical references described the disease as an aggressive or fast-growing form of lymphoma that affects white blood cells, developing in lymph nodes.
It is "considered potentially curable," according to the US Lymphoma Research Foundation.
In a statement, Sen. Ping Lacson expressed sympathy for Morales, who was asked to step down due to the latter's health condition.
"I feel sorry for PCEO Morales. I hate to think that the stress brought about by the intense COW hearings may have taken a toll on his infirm health condition," he said.
"In spite of his possible complicity that could make him face some serious legal problems, I still wish that he wins his bout against cancer and recovers," added Lacson, who has been vocal over alleged irregularities at the state insurer.
PhilHealth is under investigation over alleged systemic corruption, including billions worth of allegedly overpriced procurement and overpayments to favored hospitals.
A Senate panel on Tuesday released findings on its PhilHealth investigation, identifying alleged members of an influential “mafia” involved in corruption at the agency and recommending criminal charges against Cabinet members from the previous administration for alleged illegal fund disbursements in 2015.
- With reports from Ina Reformina and Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News