House cites PhilHealth official in contempt, detains for 4 days

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 27 2020 10:48 PM | Updated as of Aug 28 2020 01:30 AM

(UPDATED) The joint lower House committees investigating the alleged corruption at the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) have cited in contempt PhilHealth Internal Legal Department Senior Manager Rogelio Pocallan Jr., and ordered his detention at the House of Representatives until Monday.

Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. made the motion Thursday after the House hearing revealed that Pocallan rendered the legal opinion that was used as basis for the PhilHealth board’s decision to overturn a Court of Appeals ruling suspending Perpetual Succor Hospital, Inc. in Cebu for three months. The PhilHealth board instead penalized the hospital with a P100,000 fine, and restitution of all benefits unnecessarily paid by Philhealth.

Pocallan was cited in contempt for supposedly “misleading the public” that a court ruling can be reversed by an administrative agency like PhilHealth, and his legal opinion was used as basis by the board to overturn the CA ruling.

Pocallan clarified that his legal opinion was for a different case, and but maintained that the PhilHealth board has “quasi judicial powers” to penalize.

“When that opinion was presented, I warned the PhilHealth board. The PhilHealth board, I said may be exposing themselves to perception of partiality, kasi nga may decision na. I frankly told them. That’s why I insisted that the matter should be referred to the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel,” Pocallan said.

Rep. Lawrence Fortun said it is possible Pocallan was ordered to render the opinion “to suit the wishes of the board”. But Pocallan previously this. The PhilHealth decision was signed by 15 members of the board, including its chairman, Sec. Francisco Duque III, according to PhilHealth Corporate Secretary Atty. Jonathan Mangaoang.

“It appears that he was told to render an opinion that would suit the wishes of the board. And after rendering an opinion, sinabi niya na baka mamaya pagdudahan kayo niyan,” Fortun said.

The joint house panels will also ask the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct a probe and look into possible plunder charges over allegedly unclaimed PhilHealth refunds from a hospital amounting to P170 million.

This stems from the supposed overpayment of Philhealth to the Hospital Management Incorporated, former operator of Cardinal Santos Medical Center.

PhilHealth initially demanded P240 million from HMI, but the latter filed an arbitration case. Former PhilHealth Senior Vice President for Legal Sector Edgar Asuncion said judicial accounting showed that HMI owed PhilHealth only P70 million.

Barzaga also questioned PhilHealth’s failure to get a conviction in most criminal cases it filed. PhilHealth admitted that of the 31 criminal cases for falsification and use of falsified documents it filed, 29 were dismissed at the prosecution level, while the other 2 remain pending.

“That’s why we requested the GCG for additional lawyer positions,” Pocallan replied.

He noted that in his office, he only has two lawyers. One handles criminal and PRC cases, as well as cases against PhilHealth, and the other handles requests for legal opinions and contract reviews.