PhilHealth

Lawmakers question qualifications of PhilHealth officials amid corruption scandal

Mara Cepeda
Legislators grill 3 senior PhilHealth officials and accuse them of being unqualified for the job

 Legislators now doubt if Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) officials embroiled in the latest corruption scandal are even qualified to hold their positions. 

On Thursday, August 20, PhilHealth senior vice president for the legal sector Rodolfo del Rosario Jr, executive vice president and chief executive officer Arnel de Jesus, and acting senior vice president for actuarial services Nerissa Santiago were put on the hot seat as the House resumed its investigation on the anomalies hounding the agency

It was Senior Deputy Majority Leader Jesus Crispin Remulla who kicked off queries on the officials’ qualifications by quizzing Del Rosario about his career in PhilHealth. 

It turned out that though Del Rosario came from the ranks since he joined PhilHealth in 1998, he had only passed the Bar examinations and became a lawyer in 2016. 

Del Rosario was appointed as SVP for PhilHealth’s legal sector in April last year. He had no prior experience in law-related positions.

For Remulla, a lawyer himself, this made Del Rosario unfit to hold the “most important” legal job in PhilHealth.

“Alam mo naman bakit tinatanong ko ‘yon, Mr Del Rosrario, ano? (You do know why I’m asking these, Mr Del Rosario, right?) It’s not to belittle your competence or your capability,” the Cavite 7th District congressman said. 

“It’s just that you are holding the most important legal job in the biggest government corporation with the budget of P20 billion. And here you are, appointed as senior vice president for the legal sector, with less than 5 years experience as a lawyer,” Remulla added. 

Del Rosario, however, denied he was “incompetent” when Remulla asked him if he considered himself unqualified for the job. 

“No, I’m sorry, Mr Chairman, I beg to disagree. The records will show that during my limited time here, doble po ‘yong pag-fa-file ng criminal complaints. Tapos tumaas po ‘yong bilang ng investigations and resolution ng cases. ‘Yon po ang katotohanan, Mr Chairman,” Del Rosario said. 

(No, I’m sorry, Mr Chairman, I beg to disagree. The records will show that during my limited time here, we doubled the criminal complaints filed. And the number of investigations and resolutions of cases increased. That’s the truth, Mr Chairman.)

Del Rosario also denied accusations that he was part of the so-called PhilHealth mafia – the officials allegedly responsible for the rampant corruption in the state health insurer. 

“I absolutely deny that, Mr Chair. Wala po tayong tinatago. Pumirma na po tayo ng ‘yong sa waiver sa AMLC (Anti-Money Laundering Council)…. Sir, sobrang ano po niyan, sobrang unfair. Nasasaktan po tayo nang husto diyan,” Del Rosario said.

(I absolutely deny that, Mr Chair. We are not hiding anything. We signed a waiver for the AMLC… Sir, this is so unfair. This hurts us so much.)

Earlier in the same hearing, Del Rosario admitted that the March to early June disbursements under the controversial Interim Reimbursement Mechanism were “illegal.”

Del Rosario was among the 13 PhilHealth officials the Ombudsman preventively suspended now that the agency was under investigation for corruption.

Accommodation and lack of license

Later on in the same hearing, Bagong Henerasyon Representative Bernadette Herrera accused PhilHealth of changing the qualifications for the EVP and COO post just so they could accommodate De Jesus. 

“Parang ang ginawa natin, we suited the requirements of Mr De Jesus para lang siya lamang ang ma-appoint na COO. Kasi parang all of a sudden, dinowngrade natin [‘yong standards],” Herrera said. 

(It’s like what you did was you suited the requirements of Mr De Jesus just so he would be the only one to appointed as COO. Because suddenly, you downgraded your standards.)

She directed her questions to PhilHealth senior vice president for management services sector Dennis Mas, who also handled human resources, since De Jesus was absent during the hearing.

Quizzed by Herrera, Mas said the qualifications for the EVP and COO post changed after PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales made a request to amend it before the Civil Service Commission (CSC) on September 11, 2019. 

Mas said the CSC would later approve this request in February of this year so that person even who just has a bachelor’s degree in accountancy would be qualified to become EVP and COO.

The posts previously required candidates to be a career service professionals, but Mas said these qualifications could be disregarded if the person is a certified public accountant. 

This convinced Herrera that PhilHealth simply accommodated De Jesus.

“I just cannot help but think na siinuit ‘nyo ‘yong requirements ‘nyo just to be able to suit this person (I just cannot help but think you suited the requirements so they would suit this person),” Herrera said.

She then turned her attention to Santiago, whom Herrera asked if she had a license to be an actuarian. Santiago replied she does not have one.

“Mr Chair, the Actuarial Society of the Philippines doesn’t issue po licenses. We are conferred the associate and the fellow titles of actuaries po,” Santiago said.

But Herrera said she could not find Santiago’s name under the list of members of the society. 

Santiago then admitted that she was currently not active in the organization, but she said she can secure a certification that she was still a member.

At this point, Herrera directed another question to Mas, asking if he agreed that PhilHealth was better off appointing qualified people to its roster of officials.

Mas agreed, saying this was why the agency was moving towards changing its system for assessing the eligibility of applicants and appointees.

“Kaya ngayon ang thrust natin ay competence-based human resource management system. Ibig sabihin, ‘yong mga observations kanina na doon sa position ng legal ay puwede ho nating i-amend ‘yan later at i-prescribe… para maging specific na siya talga sa positions,” Mas said. 

(That’s why our thrust now is competence-based human resource management system. That means the observations raised earlier with legal can be amended and prescribed later on… so the requirements are really specific for the positions.) – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.