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Duterte approves raps vs. PhilHealth execs

MJ Blancaflor

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Former PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales and six other colleagues face criminal and administrative charges.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday approved the filing of criminal and administrative charges against ex-Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) president and CEO Ricardo Morales along with other officials over irregularities found within the state insurer.

Duterte, in his public address, said charges would also be filed against senior vice presidents Jovita Aragona, Renato Limsiaco Jr., and Israel Pargas; officer in charge Calixto Gabuya Jr.; executive vice president and chief operating officer Arnel de Jesus; and division chief Bobby Crisostomo.

The charges were in relation to the disbursement of the controversial Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM) funds and the anomalous IT project that was supposed to reduce corruption in the agency.

“The issue of PhilHealth corruption was really an important issue to the Filipinos and to everybody, and everybody, again, is also placed in jeopardy by the actions of the officials,” Duterte said.

“I’m sorry for them but they have to undergo a trial. Although, they can always prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The presumption of innocence still attaches, but the report of another agency says otherwise,” he added.

This was based on the report submitted to him by Department of Justice-led Task Force PhilHealth which was created last month to probe anomalies hounding the state-run firm.

The task force, meanwhile, urged Duterte to “strongly admonish and remind” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and other ex-officio members of the PhilHealth board of the “grave consequences of their action or inaction.”

Duterte added that the investigation on Morales, De Jesus, Aragona, Limsiaco, Gabuya, and Crisostomo revealed their dishonesty, gross neglect of duty, grave misconduct, falsification of official documents, disloyalty to the Republic of the Philippines and to the Filipino, and inefficiency and incompetence in the performance of official duties.

Composed of representatives from the Office of the Special Assistant to the President, Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission, National Bureau of Investigation, Anti-Money Laundering Council, and Ombudsman, the special panel interviewed 14 witnesses in the course of seven hearings and looked into documents and reports.

The Senate committee of the whole has previously recommended that Duque and Morales should be charged with malversation and graft for the “improper and illegal implementation” of IRM or cash advances to hospitals.

Duterte has been pressed to axe Duque over his supposed lackluster performance as Health chief while the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic. Calls for Duque’s resignation have been ignited by fresh allegations of corruption within the state insurer.

Duque has since denied his involvement in the purported fraudulent schemes in PhilHealth, particularly the IRM which was allegedly used by PhilHealth executives to pocket P15-billion worth of funds.

He said he was a non-voting chairman in PhilHealth under the Universal Health Care Law and neither attended the deliberation nor signed the board resolution on IRM.

Earlier this month, Duque said he would step down from his post if his services are “no longer needed,” but maintained that he had only intended to work with dignity and to advance public health care in the country.

p: wjg

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