Guevarra denies Duterte backing for Duque influenced PhilHealth probe findings

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra denied that President Rodrigo Duterte's repeated public declarations of support for Health Secretary Francisco Duque III had any effect on the recommendations made by a task force he led on corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

"Not at all, no effect as far as the task force is concerned, more particularly the DOJ (Department of Justice)," said Guevarra on Thursday, September 17, during a virtual press briefing.

"We will only go by the evidence presented before us so if we see something, so be it. If nothing, nothing. If we see something, we'll include him (Duque) and the rest of the board if need be," the DOJ chief added.

Duque, who chairs the PhilHealth Board of Directors as health secretary, got a mere "admonishment" in the recommendations of the task force.

Meanwhile, the task force recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against other top PhilHealth officials, including resigned chief executive officer and president Ricardo Morales.

These findings come after Duterte vouched, at least twice, for Duque, even amid allegations of widespread corruption in PhilHealth.

Lawmakers, including Senate President Vicente Sotto III, called for Duque's resignation. Sotto said he was "dumbfounded" that Duterte approved task force recommendations that merely admonished the health chief.

'Lack of time, effort' by Duque-led board

While Morales was accused of negligence, the task force said Duque and the rest of the board deserve a less severe punishment because there was an effort by some PhilHealth officials to hide documents and information from the board as they sought approval for certain decisions.

For instance, Executive Committee members supposedly hid from the board an internal audit report flagging inconsistencies in the inventory of PhilHealth's IT equipment.

These efforts to conceal critical information from Duque and the rest of the board "somewhat mitigate" their negligence, reads the report to Duterte.

But Guevarra was asked whether or not Duque could have spotted the concealment if he exerted due diligence in studying and assessing requests from the Executive Committee.

Guevarra admitted that this could have been the case.

"If you will really exert due diligence, you might have probably discovered that, but considering that the board is generally a policy-making body and really the operational side is being done by the Executive Committee, chances are, when it gets to the board...maybe in practice they lack time and effort to really go through these requests," said Guevarra.

"It's really quite a necessity that you will have to rely on the inputs submitted to you by the Executive Committee," he added.

Guevarra estimates that PhilHealth corruption has robbed public coffers of "hundreds of billions" of pesos.

The DOJ-led task force will be looking into anomalies or wrongdoing in the state insurer's legal sector next. A complaint on the legal sector may be filed in the next two months, said the justice secretary.

The first report focused on the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism and information and communications technology system of PhilHealth. ā€“ Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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