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September 15, 2020

Ex-PhilHealth Chief Morales, Other Officials To Face Charges Over Corruption Allegations – Duterte

Ex-PhilHealth Chief Morales, Other Officials To Face Charges Over Corruption Allegations – Duterte

Former Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) president Ricardo Morales and other officials will face charges while Health Secretary Franciso Duque III will only get an admonition over the alleged massive corruption in the state-run insurer. 

The multi-agency task force formed to investigate the alleged fraudulent activities in PhilHealth has recommended the filing of criminal and administrative cases against Morales and other senior executives of the health insurer, President Duterte announced in a public address aired Monday night, Sept. 14.  

Morales, who resigned from his post last month supposedly to focus on his health issues, and other ranking officials of PhilHealth were accused of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the Revised Penal Code and the Internal Revenue Code. 

Other PhilHealth officials facing charges include senior vice presidents Jovita Aragona, Renato Limsiaco Jr., Israel Pargas, executive vice president and chief operating officer Arnel de Jesus, officer-in-charge Calixto Gabuya Jr. and division chief Bobby Crisostomo.

The task force, meanwhile, recommended that Duque, the chairman of PhilHealth, and members of the board be admonished due to the "grave consequence of their action or inaction to PhilHealth funds to the government and its coffers and the interest of ordinary people who rely on the PhilHealth system." 

 The President  approved the recommendations. “I am sorry for them, but they would have to undergo 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,” Duterte said. 

The criminal charges are for offenses including graft, malversation of public funds and failure to file withholding taxes on reimbursements given in advance to several hospitals.

The administrative cases will be for actions and omissions constituting dishonesty, grave misconduct, disloyalty, gross neglect of duty, inefficiency and incompetence, and falsification of documents.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque earlier said Duterte would respect the evidence-based findings of the task force "regardless of who is involved." 

The task force, led by the Department of Justice, submitted its recommendation to Duterte earlier on Monday but officials have said the investigation on the health insurer would not end with the completion of the report. 

While the Senate, which conducted its own investigation into the alleged anomalies in the agency, had recommended the filing of charges against Duque , Duterte expressed belief last week that the health chief is not corrupt.

Read more: Duque, PhilHealth Officials To Face Criminal, Other Charges For Alleged Corruption

Roque claimed Duterte's remarks would not affect the findings of the task force. 

"The President ordered the task force to conduct a fact-finding activity to recommend charges against individuals. I think the President will respect whatever evidence is uncovered by the task force regardless of who is involved," Roque said in a press briefing. 

Asked whether the President would amend the report, Roque replied: "Of course, only the President can answer that question but I doubt it because he (has given) authority to the fact-finding (body) he formed."

"And I think since he was the one who formed that, he will accept the factual findings of his own task force. Of course, the final say will still be the President's and we cannot limit his options," he added. 

PhilHealth is under scrutiny over allegations that billions in funds have been lost to fraudulent activities including the purchase of allegedly overpriced coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) test kits and information technology equipment, the unauthorized release of funds to hospitals that have not yet logged coronavirus infections, and the overstating of hospital claims to the health insurer. 

Duterte has created the multi-agency task force to look into the allegations, which surfaced as the Philippines is battling the COVID-19 pandemic. The task force is composed of the Office of the Ombudsman, Civil Service Commission, Office of the Executive Secretary, Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission and Palace Undersecretary Melchor Quitain.

Duque and other PhilHealth officials have denied involvement in anomalies and have expressed readiness to answer the accusations against them. 

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