Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra (File photo)
MANILA – Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he will personally supervise the work of a task force ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte to investigate alleged anomalies in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).
Guevarra made the statement as the task force convened on Monday to finalize a strategy.
“Considering that the President directly assigned me to create the task force, I will personally oversee its operation to ensure a coordinated government action, with support from my undersecretaries and assistant secretaries and a team of DOJ lawyers acting as secretariat,” Guevarra told reporters on Monday.
Guevarra added that members of the task force are presently identifying which specific investigations or audits, other than on the WellMed issue, “could be reasonably accomplished within the limited period given to the task force”.
Over the weekend, Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento said prosecutors are awaiting court action in connection with Wellmed Dialysis Center, one of the clinics which allegedly filed bogus claims from the health provider.
“The prosecutors have yet to receive the court’s notice of hearing for their presentation of evidence. Before the community quarantine, a pre-trial hearing was conducted,” Malcontento said.
Guevarra said the DOJ is coordinating with the Office of the Ombudsman on the WellMed issue and will reserve judgment until the task force has gone to work.
Meanwhile, Guevarra said he has no recommendation on who among the PhilHealth officials should go on leave amid the investigations on the alleged corruption activities.
“We have no recommendation yet whom to go on leave except those in the recommendation of the PACC. I hope they voluntarily take their leave while their agency is under intense investigation,” Guevarra said.
He was referring to the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission’s (PACC) recommendations to fire at least 36 officials and to immediately file graft charges against them before the Office of the Ombudsman.
“They know who they are. If they are not hiding anything, they can take a leave of absence to enable the investigators/auditors to freely complete their inquiry or examination. Besides, the national privacy commission has repeatedly declared that the data privacy act may not be used to hinder the conduct of legitimate government investigations,” Guevarra said.
On Aug. 7, Duterte signed a memorandum designating the DOJ to form a task force that will investigate and prosecute offenders behind the alleged widespread corruption and irregularities within PhilHealth.
The task force is also mandated to make an audit of the PhilHealth finances and conduct lifestyle checks on the state insurer’s officials and employees, according to the presidential memorandum.
Under the terms of the President’s directive, during the course of the investigation, if warranted, the panel may recommend to Duterte the imposition of preventive suspension on any PhilHealth official to ensure the unhampered conduct of the investigation.
Within 30 days from its constitution, the panel through Guevarra shall submit to the Office of the President its findings and recommendations which shall include proposed legal actions against officials and employees found responsible for acts of corruption or anomalies in PhilHealth.
Aside from DOJ and PACC, other members of the task force include the Office of the Ombudsman, Commission on Audit, Civil Service Commission, the Office of the Executive Secretary, and the Office of the Special Assistant to the President.
Duterte came out with the directive after resigned PhilHealth anti-fraud officer Thorsson Montes Keith claimed that around PHP15 billion of the agency’s funds have been pocketed by some corrupt officials.
Keith also revealed that all members of the state firm’s executive committee composed the “mafia,” which had been allegedly siphoning funds from PhilHealth for the past years through fraudulent transactions.
His allegations also came after PhilHealth acting senior vice president Nerissa Santiago’s admission that the firm could go bankrupt in 2021 due to decreased collections and increased payouts for health expenses of its members due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). (PNA)