A SENATE investigation of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) for alleged corruption will continue even if the agency’s chief executive officer takes a medical leave, a lawmaker said on Monday.
“It won’t stop our inquiry and other witnesses and testimonies from coming out,” Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said in a mobile phone message. “It won’t also stop the filing of charges against erring officials of PhilHealth if warranted.”
PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo C. Morales told CNN Philippines he wanted to go on leave after being diagnosed with cancer in February. He said he had been undergoing chemotherapy.
“They said it’s not wise to change horses in the middle of the stream, and that was what I was trying to avoid,” he said. “In this case, nature has intervened and we’ll have to take the doctor’s advice.”
“I have relayed to my bosses my intention, so it’s up to them to decide,” Mr. Morales said.
The Senate Committee of the Whole will resume its probe on Tuesday. The state-owned insurance company allegedly bought overpriced items and gave financial aid to ineligible health facilities.
Mr. Sotto said Mr. Morales would attend the hearing via teleconferencing. Also invited were officials from the Commission on Audit, Department of Information and Communications Technology and the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC).
The PACC last week said it had recommended the filing of charges against three dozen PhilHealth officials, which the Senate may adopt in its committee report.
“We will listen to them,” Mr. Sotto said, referring to officials from the anti-graft body. “We will ask for evidence and the reason why they’re recommending this,” he said at an online briefing.
The Senate committee might recommend that charges be filed by the Office of the Ombudsman and the Department of Justice once it ends its investigation, he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sotto said public officials like Mr. Morales, who complained about his illness being reported on, have no privacy.
“When you hold a high public office, you are a servant of and answerable to the people,” he said in a separate phone message. “There is no privacy. If you cannot stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
PhilHealth Vice-President for Operations Augustus de Villa last week quit his job but promised to cooperate with the congressional probe. Mr. De Villa, a retired military officer, said he had briefed Mr. Morales about his resignation.
Former PhilHealth anti-fraud legal officer Thorsson Keith told senators at a hearing the agency’s top officials had pocketed P15 billion through fraudulent programs.
He said the sum came from overpriced equipment the agency had bought, as well as from a program that gave financial aid to health facilities amid a coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Keith called PhilHealth executive committee officers in-house mafia members.
The agency allegedly gave advance payments to health institutions by up to three months during the pandemic, even if only P1 billion had been liquidated.
PhilHealth has denied the allegations.
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said PhilHealth officials should take a leave pending investigation.
“If they are not hiding anything, they can take a leave of absence to enable the investigators/auditors to freely complete their inquiry,” Mr. Guevarra, whose office is also conducting a probe, told reporters in a Viber group message.
“Besides, the national privacy commission has repeatedly declared that the Data Privacy Act may not be used to hinder the conduct of legitimate government investigations,” he added. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Vann Marlo M. Villegas