'Talagang sindikato': Ex-PhilHealth official details how agency pocketed OFW contributions

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 02 2020 03:12 PM | Updated as of Sep 02 2020 03:14 PM

People flock to a Philhealth branch in Quezon City on Monday, last day of the General Community Quarantine (GCQ) before Metro Manila reverts to Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ). Fearing further restrictions under the MECQ, people rushed to get their IDs and process their membership, which they need to avail of the government financial subsidy. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

MANILA — At least 40 individuals from the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation are involved in pocketing premiums contributed by migrant workers, a former official claimed Wednesday, as he detailed how the "syndicate" within the agency allegedly operated.

Ken Sarmiento, former senior auditing specialist of PhilHealth, said contributions paid by over 7,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) ended up in corrupt officials' pockets instead of PhilHealth's coffers. 

"We learned that 7,257 OFWs hindi napaghulugan ng premiums... Hindi po natanggap ng PhilHealth 'yung premiums nila," he claimed during the Joint inquiry of House committees on Public Accounts and Good Government and Public Accountability.

The former auditor said he was able to detect 2 schemes ran by around 40 individuals in the agency.

"Napansin po namin dalawang modus: retail fraud na isa isang binibigyan ng resibo ang OFW, at isa pang level ay wholesale na may involvement na ang hiring agency," he said.

"Mayroon po talagang sindikato," he added.

Sarmiento said that the fake receipts' control numbers were sourced from different parts of the country under what he called the "sharing scheme."

"Mayroon pong nagre-recruit sa kanila para i-distribute 'yung fake receipts sa OFWs at 'yung hatiaan, out of the P2,400, P900 'yung mapupunta sa marketer na gumagawa ng fake receipts. 'Yung liaison officer, they receive P1,500. We know who they are and we know more or less 'yung structure nila," he said. 

When he brought up the fraudulent scheme to the management, Sarmiento claimed he and his boss were removed from their posts.

"After 3 to 4 years po of fact-finding, walang report sa Ad Hoc Committee, walang napakulong o na-apprehend, walang action sa 16 affidavit complaints. Ang nagawa lang nilang akysyon ay na-persecute 'yung dalawa. Natanggal po ako at ang boss ko sa aming posisyon."

But PhilHealth senior vice president Dennis Mas, however, clarified that they were merely reassigned. 

"As regards sa personal action sa kanya, reassignment po ang tawag dun."

Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo then required the submission of a written explanation on the possible fraud in PhilHealth collections from OFWs.

Last February, Sarmiento and Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, filed before the Office of the Ombudsman a complaint against PhilHealth officials over the same scheme.

They accused some officials of non-remittance of an estimated P50 to 100 million worth of contribution from OFWs.

The Senate Committee of the Whole on Tuesday recommended the filing of criminal charges against Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and several former and incumbent officials of the PhilHealth over alleged anomalies at the state health insurer.

Last Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte appointed as PhilHealth chief former National Bureau of Investigation director Dante Gierran, who confessed he was "scared" and "do not know anything about public health."