Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Wednesday that he is willing to give Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales the benefit of the doubt even as he and some of his colleagues are more inclined to believe that he was “protecting” corrupt officials in his agency.
In a virtual interview with reporters a day after the Senate Committee of the Whole’s inquiry on the alleged irregularities in the PhilHealth, Sotto, who presided the hearing, said he would not be too quick to judge Morales as incompetent or negligent, nor call for his resignation despite his supposed failure to address the problem of corruption in the state health insurer based on his responses to senators Tuesday.
“Right now, I’d still give him the benefit of the doubt. Mayroon pa ring possibility na napapaikutan siya at ‘yong sinasabi sa kanya ay hindi accurate, hindi tama, pinagsisinungalingan siya (There is still the possibility that he was being fooled and the information he was getting were not accurate, correct or lies),” the Senate chief said in the online interview Wednesday afternoon.
“Ang mabigat kasi, pumasok siya roon…’yong mga nakapaligid sa kanya doon ‘yong mga dati na (What’s worth considering is that when he was appointed, the people around him have long been in the agency). Panahon pa ng mga alegasyon ng korapsyon hanggang ngayon (Those who were there in the wake of the previous claims of corruptions until now). So at the very least, ang tingin ko (I think), he is blindsided,” he said of Morales.
Sotto admitted, however, that the retired general’s credibilty was affected by his outright denial of his previous statement about the online meeting that prompted the new corruption claims against the PhilHealth.
“He should have been very careful sa mga sinasagot niya (with his responses). So hindi natin alam ngayon kung kailan siya nagsasabi ng totoo (now we do not know when is he saying the truth),” he said.
During the hearing, Sotto confronted Morales about lying in a July 24 radio interview that he was not in the meeting-turned-“shouting match”. Morales then explained that while he had a heated exchange with a PhilHealth board member, he did not think it was a shouting match.
“Mabigat ‘yon. How much weight? I don’t think it’s a small lie. I don’t think simple ‘yon (that was simple), eh. He should not lie. What does that make of you?” Sotto said.
Senators also doubted Morales for evading questions and giving responses that seemed to be protective of his colleagues’ questionable moves, particularly the allegedly overpriced information technology project.
“Ang tingin ng iba, hindi siya blindsided, ang tingin ng iba, sa klase ng mga sagot niya, pinagtatakpan niya yong mga kasama niya (Some think he was not blindsided, some, based on his answers, think he was protecting his colleagues),” Sotto said.
“Inaasahang kong reaction is indignant (I was expecting him to be indignant)…he was defending them, that’s what’s sad about it. Kaya nga mabigat ang impact niyan sa mga kasamahan ko (And it made a huge impact to my colleagues),” he added.
He said they also questioned Morales’ promotion of the PhilHealth officers who were embroiled in previous anomalies in the agency. Morales told senators that he was unaware of complaints filed against the promoted officials.
Sotto urged Morales to come clean and explain himself clearly in the next hearing that will be conducted by the Senate on August 11. He said there is no need for an executive session as Morales had requested, unless he would divulge names of officials involved in the corruption.
“If he comes out clean and tells us everything that he knows that he was trying to evade, then it will be a different story. But if he insists on evading or trying to cover up for those people around him that are obviously pulling one over him, syempre mawawala na ‘yong benefit of the doubt (of course that benefit of the doubt will be lost),” he said.
Following yesterday’s hearing, Sotto said the Senate is now drafting the committee report on “some points that were very obvious in the hearing”.
When the probe ends, a copy of the report will be given to President Duterte for his consideration and action on the PhilHealth officials.
“Dapat makarating sa Presidente ‘yon na ‘yong mga nangyayari sa paligid niya ay hindi niya alam (The President should know that Morales was not aware of what is happening around him),” Sotto said.