8 PhilHealth execs suspended over IRM controversy

Published October 28, 2020, 7:12 PM

by Alexandria Dennise San Juan

The Office of the Ombudsman has imposed a preventive suspension order against eight officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) over alleged irregularities in the release of more than P2 billion agency funds under the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM) policy.

In the suspension order signed by Ombudsman Samuel Martires on Wednesday, the PhilHealth executives were placed under preventive suspension for six months without pay.

They include PhilHealth Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) Arnel de Jesus, COO for Fund Management Sector Renato Limsiaco, Senior Vice President Dr. Israel Paragas, Vice President Gregorio Rulloda, Imelda Trinidad De Vera-Pe, Lolita Tuliao, Gemma Sibucao, and Lailani Padua.

The order stemmed from a complaint filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) before the Office of the Ombudsman earlier this month regarding grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service of the officials in connection with the anomalous release of PhilHealth funds through the now-controversial IRM scheme.

Also included in the NBI’s criminal complaint, which was endorsed by the Department of Justice (DOJ), was former PhilHealth President and Chief Executive Officer Ricardo Morales who was not included in the suspension order as he has already resigned.

Following a two-month probe on the matter, the DOJ accused Morales of allegedly conspiring with other PhilHealth executives to release IRM funds to favored clinics and hospitals. The investigation task force concluded that the officials “consented to the misappropriation of IRM funds totaling P2,709,313,842.”

The DOJ earlier said that the IRM system, which is meant to disburse quick relief to medical facilities in times of disasters, is one of the most corrupt-laden programs of PhilHealth.

Among the issues flagged by the DOJ were the release of IRM funds for the COVID response of hospitals. Among the IRM recipients were specialty clinics, such as dialysis centers, that do not have the capacity to treat COVID-19 patients.

The DOJ previously noted that investigation of Task Force PhilHealth focused on three things: the approval and implementation of the IRM; the approval of budgets for the purchase of information and communications technology (ICT) equipment; and corporate policies and practices that fail to check, investigate, prosecute and penalize the wrongdoing of PhilHealth personnel as well as health care institutions (HCIs) and professionals.