By Ben Rosario
The Commission on Audit has directed officials Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) to return some P163.85 million in unauthorized bonuses and allowances distributed in several years ago.
The COA-Commission Proper issued the directive after it affirmed in two recent decisions of audit bodies to issue notices of disallowances for the unauthorized disbursements.
The three-man panel headed by COA Chairman Michael Aguinaldo the COA affirmed the disallowance of P80.79 million distributed to Philhealth personnel as Christmas performance and anniversary bonuses for 2009 and 2010.
In another decision, the COA body upheld the notice of disallowance covering the disbursement of P83.06 million in educational assistance and “birthday gift” incentives in 2014.
However, in its decision, COA said rank-and-file employees who received the bonuses in 2009 and 2010 are not covered by the refund order.
The decision pointed out that these employees were ‘passive recipients” of the cash incentives and were never part of the decision to grant incentives.
The COA-Proper stressed that the employes entertained the “honest belief that the amounts were due them.”
But the employees are not exempted from refunding what they received in benefits in 2014.
Disallowed were the benefits due to the Philhealth board of directors that approved the resolution to distribute the cash incentives.
COA rejected the legality of the cash grants since these lacked the approval of the president through the Department of Budget and Management.
In seeking a reversal of the notices of disallowances, former and Philhealth officials headed by Dr. Eduardo Banzon invoked the state-health insurance firm’s power to fix its own compensation system under the National Health Insurance Act of 1995.
T he COA acknowledged its authority but said this was not “absolute” as it still had to follow the requirements of Presidential Decree No. 1597 and related administrative issuances.
“PhilHealth is still duty-bound to observe the pertinent laws, rules, and regulations pertaining to the compensation system and benefits to be granted to its employees,” the COA said.
In arriving at the decision, the COA Commission Proper rejected Philhealth’s claim that took it should be accorded fiscal autonomy because its internal operating budget did not require budgetary support from the government.
While the internal budget was not financially supported by the government, the COA pointed out that it was sourced from the contributions of its members who are ordinary people.
“Like any other social insurance, the members’ contributions are treated as a trust fund, and thus, should be managed and protected with utmost integrity,” explained the COA body.
In the decision disallowing the disbursement of P80.79 million, COA blamed the PhilHealth board of directors for approving and authorizing payment, saying they should be held “solidarily liable>”
“All the members of the Philhealth Board of Directors who authorized the grant of the disallowed benefits and the approving and certifying officers of the payments shall remain solidarily liable for the total amount of disallowance,” the decision read.
It added: “However, passive recipients/payees need not refund the disallowance benefits received.”