The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) announced Thursday that it has created Task Force Philhealth that will investigate alleged corrupt activities at the state-run health insurer.
NBI officer-in-charge Director Eric Distor explained in a statement that he ordered the creation of Task Force PhilHealth to “intensify and hasten” the agency’s ongoing investigation of anomalies at PhilHealth.
Distor said the job of the task force include “the audit of the PhilHealth finances and the conduct of lifestyle checks on its officials and employees.”
“Task Force Philhealth will also coordinate with the Department of Justice (DoJ) on the progress of the investigation,” he added.
The task force will be composed of agents and investigators of the NBI Anti-Graft Division (AGD), Anti-Fraud Division (AFD), Special Action Unit (SAU), Computer Crimes Division (CCD), Special Operations Group (SOG), and Digital Forensic Laboratory (DFL).
“The task force shall be headed by NBI NCR Regional Director Cesar Bacani and shall be under the supervision of Deputy Director for Regional Operations Service (DDROS) Antonio Pagatpat to be assisted by Deputy Director for Investigation Service (DDInvS) Vicente de Guzman III,” the NBI said.
The NBI has been investigating PhilHealth since last year over the so-called “ghost dialysis scam” involving involving WellMed Dialysis and Laboratory Center Corp.
One of the issues that the task force may look into is the presence of what Senator Panfilo Lacson called a powerful mafia or syndicate that controls the multi-billion peso operations at PhilHealth.
Lacson’s allegation was based from the testimony of former PhilHealth Executive Vice President (EVP) and Chief Operating Officer (COO) Augustus de Villa that retired Brig. Gen. Ricardo Morales, PhilHealth president and chief executive officer (CEO), had told him to leave the agency because his fellow vice presidents do not trust him.
Where can you find an instance “where a corporation’s executive committee is more powerful than its president and chief executive officer?” Lacson asked.
A ranking PhilHealth official had threatened to take legal action against one of the three whistleblowers for naming some executive committee members as comprising the in-house mafia.
A PhilHealth officer had testified that the actuarial life of PhilHealth would be on a very precarious position in 2021.
Morales had testified that corruption at PhilHealth and other health insurers the world over is systemic and that even a weekly change of its president could not stop corruption at the agency.
But Lacson disagreed, saying anyone who is smart would refuse to be coopted by the mafia, and thus could efficiently run PhilHealth.
Asked during a radio interview Thursday whether firing Morales from the top PhilHealth post would stop the hemorrhaging of agency funds or other anomalous decisions and would set the stage for a major cleanup, Lacson said the powerful mafia has to be “uprooted” first.
It is very clear that there is widespread corruption at PhilHealth based on testimonies and pieces of evidence so far submitted, he added.
Queried whether President Duterte could now dismiss Morales, a former member of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) that helped topple the Marcos administration in the 80s, Lacson recalled the President stating that he trusts Morales and that he would wait for the recommendation of the task force he had created to investigate irregularities at PhilHealth.
Morales and Senators Lacson and Ronald dela Rosa are graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).
Lacson was not optimistic that the President would fire Morales based on his past actions at the graft-ridden Bureau of Customs.
He also cited the President’s repeated statements that he trusts Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque despite calls for his resignation by senators.
Lacson emphasized that the Senate has the authority to make recommendations against anybody to proper agencies such as the Office of the Ombudsman in its law-making mandate.
Asked whether the Senate is ready to make recommendations based on testimonies given and pieces of evidence submitted during its probes, Lacson said the Senate Committee of the Whole might undertake its third and last committee hearing on the PhilHealth issue Tuesday.
Chua to PhilHeath?
Meanwhile, lawmakers backed Thursday the proposed appointment of acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua as the new PhilHealth head.
Negros Oriental Rep. Manuel Sagarbarria, Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing, and Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers fully agreed with the proposal made by Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri Wednesday.
“I do support Sen. Zubiri’s proposal. Chua is a very good choice,” Sagarbarria said in a text message.
Suansing, vice chairperson of the House Committee on Ways and Means, also vouched for Chua’s untainted credibility and character, making him a “perfect” successor of Morales.
“Aside from his academic records and training, I worked with Secretary Karl in passing the Sugar Sweetened Beverages Law and I saw his compassion and dedication in his job. I am a witness of how he works (working while we are on long flights),” she said in a text message. (With a report from Charissa L. Atienza)