Top PhilHealth officials face charges

Published September 15, 2020, 12:55 AM

by Genalyn Kabiling & Jeffrey G. Damicog

Duque spared from graft, malversation of public funds, dishonesty, grave misconduct raps

Graft, malversation of public funds, dishonesty, grave misconduct will be filed against former Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) president Ricardo Morales and several ranking officials of the state corporation after President Duterte approved the recommendations of the Department of Justice-led task force. 

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte talks to the people after holding a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members at the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang on September 14, 2020.

The task force’s recommendation include filing of administrative and criminal complaints against PhilHealth officials in connection with the alleged irregular procurement of information technology equipment, Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM) releases, among others. Aside from Morales, also facing charges are Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Amel De Jesus; Senior Vice President Jovita Aragona, Chief Information Officer and head of the Information Management Sector; Senior Vice President Renato Limsiaco Jr; Senior Vice President Israel Francis Pargas of the Health Financial Policy Sector; Officer in Charge Calixto Gabuya Jr.; and Division Chief Bobby Crisostomo. However, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who serves as PhilHealth chairman, was spared by the task force. 

It merely recommended strong admonishment of the PhilHealth chairman to safeguard public funds. In its report, Task Force PhilHealth recommended the filing of criminal complaints for violating Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act against Morales, De Jesus, Aragona, Limsiaco, Pargas, Gabuya, and Crisostomo. 

The task force also recommended that Morales be also be filed with criminal complaints for violating provisions of the National Internal Revenue Code as well as for malversation of public funds or property and illegal use of public funds or property in violation of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). 

Aside from Morales, the task force said Limsiaco should also be held liable for malversation of public funds or property under the RPC. The task force said criminal complaints should also be filed against Aragona and Gabuya for frauds against the public treasury and similar offenses under the RPC. 

“The Task Force also recommended that administrative charges for, among others, dishonesty, gross neglect of duty, grave misconduct, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, be filed against these individuals,” the DOJ added. 

The President read parts of the report submitted by the task force on the corruption probe in PhilHealth during his televised press briefing Monday night. 

“The issue of PhilHealth corruption was really an important issue to the Filipinos and to everybody. And everybody again is also placed in jeopardy by the actions of the officials,” Duterte said. 

“I’m sorry for them but you have to undergo trial. Although they can always prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The presumption of innocence still attaches but the report of another agency says otherwise. So ganun ang nangyari sa PhilHealth. Halos lahat sa board (That’s what happened at PhilHealth. Almost every member of the board),” he said. 

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque later announced that the President gave the green light to the recommendations of the task force. 

“Among those who will be charged criminally and administratively are: ex-president Morales, SVP (Jovita) Aragona, OIC (Calixto) Gabuya (Jr.), SVP (Renato) Limsiaco (Jr.), SVP (Israel Francis) Pargas, COO (Arnel) De Jesus, (Division chief Bobby) Crisostomo, etc,” Roque said. 

In reading the report, the President said the task force gathered evidence showing “wrongful acts or omissions of certain key corporate officers of PhilHealth have committed.” 

“The negligence exhibited by certain officers of the PhilHealth executive committee gives rise to both administrative and criminal liability and the following laws are Republic Act No. 3019, it’s the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices law, the Penal Code – sa Revised Penal Code, the malversation of public funds or property and the illegal use of public funds and property, gross misconduct, gross neglect of duty under Civil Service rules,” Duterte said, quoting the report. 

The task force recommended that “the President strongly admonish and remind the chairman and members of the board of grave consequence of their action or inaction to PhilHealth fund to the government and its coffers and to the interest of the ordinary people who rely on PhilHealth assistance.”

It also recommended pursuing criminal liability of the PhilHealth officials for alleged graft and malversation of public funds. The officials may also be held liable for violation of the national internal revenue code in connection with their alleged failure to withhold taxes on IRM releases. The specific recommendations of the task force are the following: 

• The filing of criminal charges in relation to various ICT procurement including the concealment of important information in relation thereto, violation of Section 3(a), Republic 3019 of the Anti-Graft and Practices Act against Aragona, Gabuya, and Crisostomo; violation of Section 3(e) of RA 3019 against Morales, Aragona, and Gabuya; violation of Section 3 (g) of RA 3019 against Morales, Aragona, Gabuya, and PRO-NCR personnel; violation of Article 213 of the Revised Penal Code against Morales, Aragona, and Gabuya; 

• In relation to the disbursement of IRM funds prior to the effectivity of the pertinent circular, the filing of charges for malversation of public funds or property under Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code against Morales and Limsiaco; violation of Section 3 (a) of RA 3019 against Morales, De Jesus, Limsiaco, and Pargas; 

• In relation to the release of IRM funds despite the lack of sufficient standards of implementation, the filing of charges for violation of Section 3 (a) of RA 3019 against Pargas; 

• In relation to the non-withholding taxes of the IRM fund disbursement, the filing of charges in violation of Section 251, 255, and 272 of the NIRC and violation of RA 1051 against Morales and Limsiaco, and violation Section 256 of the NIRC against PhilHealth as a corporation. 

The task force also recommended the filing of administrative complaints against Morales, Aragona, Limsiaco, Gabuya, and Crisostomo for alleged “dishonesty, gross neglect of duty, grave misconduct, falsification of official document, disloyalty to the Republic of the Philippines and to the Filipino, the inefficiency and incompetence in the performance of official duties, and of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.” 

“Further investigation on following complaints against other officials and employees of PhilHealth as contained in part six of the attached task force PhilHealth is hereby recommended,” the report read. 

Last month, the President ordered the creation of a task force to look into the corruption allegations and other anomalies hounding PhilHealth. 

The panel, including the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission, National Bureau of Investigation, and Anti-Money Laundering Council, has been authorized to look into PhilHealth’s finances, conduct lifestyle checks, and impose preventive suspension of PhilHealth officials pending the probe. The President had earlier promised to send to jail PhilHealth officials who would be found involved in corruption. 

The Philhealth vowed to continue cooperating with the ongoing investigations even after President Duterte approved the filing of charges against some of its officials. 

“The whole of PhilHealth will continue to cooperate with the subsequent investigations to be conducted by the Task Force’s composite teams as well as by the other authorized agencies for the sake of truth and transparency,” the state-health insurer said on Tuesday, September 15. (With a report from Analou de Vera)