Duterte orders probe on PhilHealth’s ‘overpriced’ IT system

Published July 24, 2020, 12:28 PM

by Argyll Cyrus Geducos

President Duterte has ordered an investigation into the alleged anomalies surrounding the PhilHealth, particularly on the alleged overpriced purchase of an IT system worth over P2 billion.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque made the statement after it was reported that three PhilHealth officials resigned from their posts following a heated Zoom meeting where alleged corruption was supposedly unearthed accidentally.

But PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales only confirmed the resignation of two officials – lawyer Thorrsson Montes Keith, an anti-fraud officer; and Etrobal Laborte, his head executive assistant.

“Keith was refused a position for which he was not qualified,” said Morales.

In his letter of resignation to Morales, Keith stated that he was resigning effective August 31.

The PhilHealth chief added that Laborte is “leaving for PhD studies.”

Meanwhile, Corporate Legal Counsel lawyer Roberto Labe Jr. “vehemently denied news of his resignation.”

Roque said that President Duterte has ordered Undersecretary Jesus Melchor Quitain of the Office of the Special Assistant to the President to conduct the probe on PhilHealth.

In an interview with GMA’s “Unang Hirit”, Roque said private board members of PhilHealth opposed an IT purchase worth over P2 billion since the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) did not approve the P734 million worth of component.

“The management and private members cannot come to an agreement. These are not the ex-officio members,” he said.

“I referred that for investigation and now it is being investigated by the Office of the Special Assistant to the President and the Presidential Management Staff,” he added.

Roque likewise confirmed that PhilHealth’s anti-fraud legal officer Thorrsson Montes Keith was among those who resigned due to alleged “widespread corruption” in the state health insurance agency. He said he was given a copy of Keith’s resignation letter.

“‘I believe, there is widespread corruption in PhilHealth and many other reasons,’” Keith’s resignation letter stated, as read by Roque.

“So there are many other reasons why he resigned but one of them is the many instances of corruption,” he added.

The Palace official urged Keith to coordinate with Malacañang’s investigation.

“Now that there is a formal investigation, I hope he decides to cooperate even though he’s already resigned so the corruption in PhilHealth can be put to an end,” Roque said.

“If he couldn’t do that while he was still with PhilHealth, then he should do it now and reveal everything he knows,” he added.

Roque, meanwhile, insisted that there is a “systematic corruption” in PhilHealth involving those in the agency’s higher echelons.

“My conclusion is that there really is a syndicate in PhilHealth,” he said.

“I’m not saying it’s all of them but the ones at the top are the notorious ones since they are the ones crafting PhilHealth’s policies,” he added.

Roque filed a graft complaint against some PhilHealth officials in February this year for their alleged inaction on a scam involving the issuance of fake premium receipts to overseas Filipino workers.

This was not the first time that PhilHealth was rocked by corruption issues. Last year, a scandal broke out over the alleged involvement of some officials in a “ghost” dialysis treatment scheme.

Congress probe

Both House of Congress called for a parallel probe on PhilHealth.

Senate leaders have agreed to conduct an in-depth inquiry into the alleged widespread corruption at PhilHealth.

“I am now drafting a resolution calling for a Senate Committee of the Whole inquiry. As expressed by SP (Senate President Vicente C.) Sotto (III) to me last night, this inquiry will be one of the Senate’s top agenda after our session resumes on Monday (July 27),” Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, chairman of the Senate National Defense and Security Committee, told Senate reporters on Friday.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said there should be a “full-blown” Senate investigation on the new controversy hounding the Philhealth.

Senator Joel Villanueva said: “We cannot ignore the stench of corruption especially during the pandemic.”

Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara also said the Senate could revive its legislative probe last year to again look into the finances of PhilHealth.

“A big chunk of taxpayer money goes to Philhealth every year to be directed for the people’s health and the implementation of Universal Health Care. As it is, funds are hardly sufficient and corruption would make this worse and is really criminal,” he said.

At the House of Representatives, congressmen will conduct a parallel investigation into the alleged procurement anomaly.

Anakalusugan Rep. Michael Defensor said the House Committee on into media accounts of alleged anomalies that prompted two PhilHealth officials to resign.

Dr. Shirley Domingo, Philhealth spokesperson, welcomed the probe, saying that the state-run insurance firm will fully cooperate.

A number of investigations had already been initiated by Congress, the National Bureau of Investigation, and Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission but there remained no solid proof gathered by the probers to file the necessary charges against those who are supposedly behind the irregularities.

Domingo noted that the Commission on Audit (COA) has cleared PhilHealth in the case of the supposedly missing ₱154-billion fund.

Defensor had previously initiated congressional inquiries into the planned increase of contribution that PhilHealth wants to impose on OFWs. (With reports from Mario B. Casayuran, Ben R. Rosario, and Analou de Vera)