MANILA (UPDATE) -- More complaints may be filed against other PhilHealth officials allegedly embroiled in the scandal involving billions of cash advances released to hospitals and other health care institutions in a bid to fight the coronavirus pandemic, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Monday.
Guevarra, head of the task force created to investigate anomalies in the state health insurer, said "more names may be included and more complaints will be filed in the coming days."
"We have just begun. So, who knows if, in the future, other big fish might be caught... some other important person," Guevarra told senators at the Department of Justice's budget hearing at the Senate.
Guevarra did not mention any names, but his statement came as some lawmakers have questioned the exclusion of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, resigned PhilHealth senior vice president for legal Rodolfo del Rosario, and other officials in the initial complaint filed by the task force with the Office of the Ombudsman last Friday.
Duque chairs the PhilHealth board. He had vowed to clear his name in the alleged anomalies.
The National Bureau of Investigation, on behalf of the task force, filed malversation, graft and tax raps against resigned PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales and 8 other PhilHealth officials over the P2.7 billion in cash advances under the interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM) program released to 139 hospitals and health care institutions in Metro Manila from April to June this year.
The IRM provides "substantial aid" to eligible health care institutions directly hit by fortuitous events, such as a typhoon, armed conflict or a pandemic, to help them continuously operate and rebuild while maintaining continuous health services to adversely affected Filipinos.
Of the total P27 billion funds alloted to COVID for the IRM program, P2.7 billion went to Metro Manila.
These cash disbursements ranged from P170,000 to as high as P146 million, and included "dialysis centers, maternity health care facilities and infirmaries that neither admit nor cater to COVID-19 patients," the task force found.
"Worse, some HCI's have pending administrative case[s] with PhilHealth, while others which received IRM funds are non-accredited hospitals."
The task force said the disbursements were "illegal" because they violated Commission on Audit rules that require enough security features to safeguard funds and ensure proper audit, while some cash advances were made prior to the effectivity of relevant PhilHealth board resolutions.
Lacson earlier revealed the office of Senate President Vicente Sotto III has received information that the task force has found enough bases to file a complaint against Duque and del Rosario, but said they are keeping their options open as they wait for the task force's additional findings.
Sotto confirmed the information that Duque might be included in the next raps that will be filed.
"We will be glad to discuss these pieces of evidence with Sens. Sotto and Lacson. As I've repeatedly said, the work of the task force covered only a few areas of fraud and corruption due to limitations of time, but the member agencies have agreed to continue working together to investigate and prosecute other irregularities," Guevarra said in a statement.
The justice chief also welcomed the plan of some lawmakers to file their own complaints based on their own probes.
"Nothing prevents the Senate or the House from initiating their own complaints against erring PhilHealth officials. Both the Executive and the Legislative branches, representing the interest of the people, are duty-bound to rid any government agency or entity of corruption and wrongdoing," he said.
Aside from Morales, the other officials named in the complaint filed with the Ombudsman on Friday, were:
EVP and COO Arnel De Jesus
SVP Renato Limsiaco, Jr.
SVP Israel Francis Pargas
AVP Gregorio Rulloda
Section Head Dr. Imelda Trinidad De Vera-Pe
Manager Lolita Tuliao
Fiscal Examiner Gemma Sibucao
Fiscal Controller Lailani Padua
The task force said all 9 respondents conspired to commit graft and malversation.
"Their acts of predetermining the HCI's to receive the IRM funds and its subsequent processing and releasing of IRM funds prior to effectivity of PhilHealth Circular 2020-007 and contrary to provisions thereof, gave unwarranted benefits, advantage and preference to the HCIs in NCR," the complaint said, referring to section 3(e) and 3(i) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act or RA 3019.
All of them signed certain documents without segregation of duties and functions of accountable officers, according to the task force.
They were also faulted for consenting to the "misappropriation of IRM funds" punishable under Art. 217 of the Revised Penal Code on malversation.
In addition, the task force recommended prosecuting them for violation of the tax code and Republic Act No. 1051 due to failure to withhold taxes in connection with the release of the cash advances.
The complaint was limited to hospitals within Metro Manila. But a Senate inquiry found that a hospital based in Davao City, the Southern Philippines Medical Center, got the biggest cash advance with P326 million compared to the Philippine General Hospital's P263 million, even though most of the coronavirus cases are in Metro Manila.