SP Tito Sotto and DOH Secretary Francisco Duque (Photo courtesy by ABS-CBN)
MANILA — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III should hire a “good lawyer.”
This was the advice of Senate President Tito Sotto to the health department chief should the latter insist his innocence on the release of funds under the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation’s (PhilHealth) controversy-mired interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM).
The senate president said Duque would be “practically admitting guilt” to the malversation of funds if he would claim ignorance to the PhilHealth resolution authorizing the release of billions of IRM funds, Sotto said.
The Senate Committee of the Whole earlier also recommended the filing of malversation as well as graft and corruption charges against Duque and several others over the “illegal” implementation of PhilHealth’s IRM.
But Duque, who also serves ex-officio board chairman at PhilHealth, maintains the senate findings as “baseless.”
The DOH chief even called it unfair to implicate him in the IRM fund distribution when he “was not even part of the deliberation and did not sign the said resolution” that authorized it.
The said PhilHealth mechanism is an emergency cash advance measure by the state health insurer to provide hospitals with a crisis fund to respond to natural disasters, calamities as well as other unexpected events.
But Sotto did not buy Duque’s alibi instead he pointed out that even if Duque did not sign the resolution, the health secretary should have been aware that billions of funds are being released by PhilHealth.
“Pagpalagay na natin na hindi mo alam, it’s not a good idea. I think Secretary Duque should get a good lawyer because he’s practically admitting guilt to [Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code] ‘pag sinabi niyang hindi niya alam,” the senator said during the online interview.
Article 217 (Malversation) of the Revised Penal Code provides that “any public officer who, by reason of the duties of his office, is accountable for public funds or property, shall appropriate the same, or shall take or misappropriate or shall consent, or through abandonment or negligence, shall permit any other person to take such public funds or property, wholly or partially, shall be guilty of the misappropriation or malversation of such funds or property,” Sotto said.
“In other words, through abandonment or negligence. Ano ibig sabihin no’n? Mula nung March nagre-release kayo ng P14.8 billion hanggang June. Chairman ka ng board, ang ibig sabihin non [tapos] ‘di mo alam?” Sotto stressed.
“The chairman leads the direction and the agenda of the board so hindi pwedeng sabihin na hindi mo alam,” he added.
In sponsoring the Senate Committee of the Whole report during Tuesday’s plenary session, Sotto had noted that PhilHealth released over P14 billion of funds through the IRM from March to June this year.
But he said PhilHealth did not have “any legal justification” when they implemented the IRM as early as March.
This is because the standard operating procedures (SOP) on the release of the IRM funds were disseminated only on April 22, 2020, or a month after the memorandum circular on the IRM was issued on March 21, he pointed out. (Elami Go)