Sotto: Failure to explain by PhilHealth officials enough proof of involvement in corruption

Published August 6, 2020, 5:15 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Thursday that the failure of Philippine Health Insurance Corp.(PhilHealth) officials to properly explain  the alleged irregularities in their agency should be enough as proof of their involvement in corruption.

Sen. Vicente Sotto III (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Sotto issued the statement after Malacanang maintained that PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales will only be fired by President Duterte until there is evidence that he engaged in corruption.

“Government leaders, especially appointed officials, must both be competent and reliable to ensure the proper and succesful performance of their tasks,” he said, without mentioning names.

“Incompetence in governance legitimizes a corrupt and broken system. The inability of top officials to explain the lapses in PhilHealth is enough evidence that these managers are taking us — the public — on a joyride,” he added.

Earlier  Thursday, Sotto  posted a cryptic tweet saying: “Sometimes, evidence is emitted/found through the horse’s mouth.”

Senators were not satisfied with how PhilHealth senior officials addressed on Tuesday the claims of corruption and anomalies in the State-run health insurance  corporation. 

During the Senate Committee of the Whole’s legislative inquiry, Morales was particularly grilled on his insistence on the proposed Information Technology project that was flagged for alleged overpricing, his promotion of PhilHealth officials figured in previous controversies, and the continuing loss of funds due to fraud and corruption.

PhilHealth officials were also quizzed on the questionable reimbursements to select health care facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the PhilHealth’s denial of the claim that senior officials in the so-called “mafia” pocketed P15 bilion from the government insurance firm, Sotto said: “They can deny all they want, let’s wait for (evidence).”

Meanwhile, Sotto confirmed receiving a copy of the letter of PhilHealth Senior Vice President for Operations Augustus de Villa who tendered his “irrevocable resignation”  amid the fresh controversies hounding the agency

“He must have a very good reason for resigning in the midst of the controversy,” Sotto said.

In his letter, De Villa did not cite his reason for stepping down but says that Morales “knows fully well the reasons.” He assured, however, that he will continue to cooperate with the ongoing investigation of both the Senate and the House of Representatives on the anomalies in the PhilHealth.

De Villa was accused of ripping the pages of a document pertaining to the agency’s planned procurement of the allegedly overpriced IT equipment in 2019.

The official denied the claim and said he does not remember tearing up such documents. The Senate issued a subpoena duces tecum to compel De Villa to produce the documents.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who first revealed the information, said he was observing De Villa’s demeanor during the hearing whenPhilHealth officials “were being unresponsive and evasive in answering even the simplest questions from the senators.””I could sense how uneasy and embarrassed he was while hearing what we all heard,” Lacson said of the resigned PhilHealth official.

He, however, said he admired De Villa’s “honesty” about his information on the “grossly overpriced” procurement and “even voluntarily admitted that he still keeps the document in his possession.”

“Resigned or not, (he) must attend (the hearing),” Sotto said. “He promised to submit the documents that some thought he disposed.”

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said PhilHealth executives should take cue from De Villa’s resignation.

“I think all senior executives should out of delicadeza resign. But unless (Health Secretary Francisco) Duque resigns then we will see little or no progress in effectively managing the pandemic,” he said.