MANILA — The leader of an inter-agency task force investigating alleged corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) said Wednesday it would look at “the evidence only and nothing further,” even as President Rodrigo Duterte kept up his defense of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
Duque chairs the board of PhilHealth, whose officials were accused by whistleblowers of pocketing some P15 billion in public funds.
The task force has finished hearing about a dozen witnesses and is now evaluating evidence, said its head, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.
“We have to go by the evidence only and nothing further. Iyan lang ang pagbabasehan ng DOJ prosecutors, for example, or investigators when they make a resolution,” he told ANC.
(That will be the only basis of DOJ prosecutors, for example, or investigators.)
“I intend to apply the same standard in this task being given to Task Force PhilHealth,” he said.
Duterte on Monday said it was “not yet time” for Duque to resign, even after a Senate committee recommended the filing of criminal charges against him over the alleged "improper and illegal implementation" of PhilHealths' Interim Reimbursement Mechanism, "malversation of public funds," and violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
According to Guevarra, the President “said that in the context of issues on corruption.”
“In other words, as far as Mr. Duterte is concerned, kung mayroong issue of corruption, mawawala sigurado ang trust niya doon sa person na iyon,” he said. “Pero kung hindi naman corruption ang issue against one of his officials or Cabinet secretaries, then probably, he’ll be more lenient.”
(If there is a corruption issue, perhaps he will lose trust in that person.)
Duque has said that command responsibility of PhilHealth did not rest in him, but rather its president and CEO, saying he did not have voting power over decisions for the agency. The PhilHealth board is also a collegial body, which means that decisions come from all 13 of its members, he said.
In the meeting with Duterte on Monday night where Guevarra was also in attendance, Duque voiced his frustration for being tagged over alleged anomalous transactions in PhilHealth.
"Nakakatawa ho. I have to express my --- my frustration, Sir. I hope you don’t mind. Eh ‘yon ngang mga pumirma, eh ni hindi man sila ni-recommend eh. Iyong hindi --- ‘yung mga pumirma, hindi ni-recommend for filing of the cases. Iyong hindi pumirma, ‘yon lang ang idinawit," he said.
(It's funny... Those who signed were not recommended for filing of cases. Those who did not sign were tagged instead.)
"Parang, bakit naman ganun? What heart of injustice, unfairness? And masakit po ‘yan, Sir, ‘yung hindi ka nga pumirma, ikaw pa iyong idinadawit --- ipinipilit na idawit," he told Duterte.
"Iyon sir, ang hindi ko matanggap lang sa dibdib ko eh."
(It's like, why is it like that? ... What's painful there, Sir, is you did not sign, but you are being implicated... That's what my heart can't accept.)
Guevarra said the Senate report was “quite useful in guiding the work of the task force.”
Sen. Richard Gordon, who does not believe Duque is criminally liable for the PhilHealth mess, came up with a separate report that recommended charges against a different set of officials, including 2 Cabinet secretaries from the previous Aquino administration.
The task force got Gordon’s report while it was already “winding up” the probe, said Guevarra.
“Medyo mahihirapan kaming isama iyon kasi wala na kaming oras. To include iyong mga incidents reported by Sen. Gordon would really be too much for the task force,” he said.
(We will find it hard to include that because we are out of time.)
The PhilHealth task force is set to submit its findings to Duterte on Sept. 14, in time for a 30-day deadline to complete its probe.