Lacson sees malversation charges vs PhilHealth execs as Senate readies report

JC Gotinga

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Lacson sees malversation charges vs PhilHealth execs as Senate readies report

Through the barriers: Senate President Vicente Sotto III (left) chats with Sen. Panfilo Lacson before the start of the Senate Committee of the Whole hybrid hearing looking into the alleged widespread corruption at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) Tuesday, August 11, 2020. (Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB)

The Senate committee of the whole plans to release the findings of its PhilHealth probe early next week

Senator Panfilo Lacson said the Senate committee of the whole may recommend corruption charges against certain officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) over their alleged involvement in fraudulent schemes unearthed during the panel’s recently concluded investigation.

Among those possible charges is malversation, one of the more basic criminal cases government officials face when mishandling public funds. Plunder, the gravest corruption case in the law, is more difficult to prove, Lacson told reporters in a virtual briefing on Wednesday, August 26.

Besides the P50-million threshold for embezzlement to qualify as plunder, the accuser must also prove the suspect benefited personally from the money, the senator added.

What is clear, Lacson said, is that there were offenses committed by some PhilHealth officials in the incidents narrated to the Senate over 3 marathon hearings on August 4, 11, and 18.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who leads the panel, is finalizing the committee report, which he said he would release early next week.

Lacson was one of the driving forces of the investigation. He said Sotto’s office will take into consideration his findings and the documents he secured with the help of whistleblowers from PhilHealth.

There were glaring offenses committed in the release of Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM) funds supposedly for the COVID-19 pandemic, the senator said.

The memo that authorized the current iteration of the IRM only took effect on June 11, but funds had been rolled out as far back as March. PhilHealth legal sector senior vice president (SVP) Rodolfo del Rosario Jr, who announced his resignation on Wednesday, admitted to a House panel that the IRM disbursements before June 11 were illegal.

Lacson said the current IRM itself – advanced payment of expected insurance claims to hospitals and clinics – is improper. Worse, a huge chunk of it – at least P226 million – went to dialysis and maternity clinics that were not catering to COVID-19 patients, defeating the fund’s purpose.

Then, PhilHealth fund management sector SVP Renato Limsiaco Jr did not withhold taxes from the IRM advanced payments. Instead, he said he drew from the agency’s corporate operating budget to temporarily cover the tax obligation from those payments. For this, Lacson said Limsiaco should be held accountable.

“So right away, there is violation of the National Internal Revenue Code, on top of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. And there’s malversation, too,” Lacson told reporters.

Former PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales authorized the release of the IRM funds, so he should also be held to account, Lacson said. Morales was relieved from office by President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday, August 25, for health reasons.

There was also a clear “anti-graft violation” in the “grossly overpriced” procurements by the PhilHealth information technology sector, the senator added. For instance, network switches with a market price of about P62,000 apiece were about to be procured for P348,000 each.

“So that’s more or less what the committee report will tackle,” said Lacson.

Whether the report will tag Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, PhilHealth’s ex-officio chairperson, the senator said it will depend on the evidence on hand.

“We’re always guided by evidence. We won’t push for cases if there isn’t enough evidence,” Lacson added.

The Senate panel has sent the Executive’s Task Force PhilHealth – a composite body probing the state insurer – all the documents from the Senate investigation and all testimonies from its resource persons.

Ultimately, the impetus to press charges against those responsible for anomalies in PhilHealth would come from the Department of Justice, which leads the Executive task force, Lacson said. –

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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.