MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The whistle-blowers in the Philhealth-Wellmed dialysis scam were arrested on Thursday, October 3, their lawyer Harry Roque confirmed.
"Their bail is P610,000 each," Roque told Rappler in a text message on Friday morning, October 4, adding that he would request the Office of the Ombudsman to take over the case so the whistleblowers could turn state witnesses.
The Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 34 issued the warrants of arrest, after the QC Regional Trial Court (RTC) ordered the case transferred there, saying it's the MeTC that has jurisdiction over estafa through falsification of public documents.
Liezel Aileen de Leon and Edwin Roberto, both former employees of the Wellmed Dialysis Center, revealed how Wellmed was able to charge Philippine Health Insurance Corporation for dialysis claims of dead PhilHealth members.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) charged them alongside Wellmed owner Bryan Sy for estafa through falsification of documents, but they were expected to turn into state witnesses.
Potential state witnesses must be charged first so the court can discharge them as state witnesses upon the prosecutors' request.
However, they ran into a technicality.
"Law says only for serious crimes, that's why we're going to the Ombudsman," said Roque.
Under Section 10 of Republic Act No. 6981 or the Witness Protection Program (WPP) law, a person can qualify as state witness if his testimony will be used in a grave felony.
The RTC earlier said that their charges carried a maximum penalty of 6 years imprisonment, which, under the Revised Penal Code (RPC), does not constitute grave felony.
Roque said that if the Ombudsman takes over, the case against them could be malversation.
"(We will request) the Ombudsman to conduct preliminary investigation for malversation," said Roque.
The charges so far involve P600,000 in claims defrauded from Philhealth. Under the malversation law, this has a penalty of 12 to 20 years which makes it a grave felony, and which could qualify them as state witnesses.
Roque said he "couldn't help but think" that a "wrong" charge was intentionally filed.
"Legal department ng PhilHealth ang complainant diyan. At sa tingin ko nga, talagang intensyon nilang pagtakpan ang mga kasama nila diyan sa PhilHealth, kaya ni isang taga-PhilHealth ay wala silang dinawit," Roque told reporters Friday afternoon after meeting with Ombudsman Samuel Martires.
(It was Philhealth's legal department which was the complainant. And I really think they intended to cover up for their colleagues because they did not include one Philhealth official in the complaint.)
The complaint was indeed filed by Philhealth, but it was the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) that transmitted the complaint to the DOJ.
Only 3 days later, the DOJ indicted Sy and the whistleblowers.
Roque said he will initiate the filing of a malversation case before the Ombudsman.
As for the pending estafa charges before the QC MeTC, Roque said he will talk to the DOJ prosecutors to "restrategize."
"Papunta naman ako sa DOJ para sabihin kung anong dapat maging strategy. Dahil kung hindi po tayo magstrategize, eh mukhang hindi po mapapanagot ang mga may-ari ng Wellmed na hindi po katanggap-tanggap," said Roque.
(I'm going to the DOJ now to ask for our next strategy. Because if we don't strategize, we will not be able to hold the Wellmed owner accountable which is not acceptable.)
But the whistle-blowers are not public officials, who are the main coverage of the Office of the Ombudsman.
The alleged scam, however, also involves Philhealth officials. In the past, the Ombudsman has covered private persons if they were in conspiracy with public officials such as Janet Lim Napoles in the pork barrel scam.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has only recently filed graft complaints against 21 Philhealth officials, but this has yet to be resolved by the DOJ.
NBI investigation showed that accreditation processes were skirted, and early red flags were ignored by the Philhealth officials when they continued granting claims to Wellmed. – Rappler.com