PhilHealth execs flag health concerns ahead of 2nd Senate hearing on corruption mess

Two top officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) have notified the Senate of their health problems that may prevent them from physically attending the chamber’s second hearing of alleged corruption in the state health insurer.

The next Senate hearing on the PhilHealth controversy is set for Tuesday, August 11.

PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales confirmed in a message to Rappler on Saturday, August 8, that he has been undergoing chemotherapy since May.

Morales said he is not begging off from the probe, but seeking permission from the Senate Committee of the Whole if he may attend the next hearings via web conference.

Morales earlier sent the Senate committee a medical certificate stating that he is undergoing chemotherapy, and that his immunity is compromised because of this. A Senate source who declined to be identified showed the certificate to reporters on Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, PhilHealth Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Office Arnel de Jesus has begged off from the Senate investigation “due to an unforeseen medical emergency.”

De Jesus stated this in a letter to Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Friday, August 7. The letter came with a medical certificate.

De Jesus said he would make himself available for the investigation when his health permits it.

Morales and De Jesus physically attended the Senate committee’s first hearing on the corruption allegations on Tuesday, August 4. The hearing ran for 10 straight hours, and Morales on Thursday said he and his fellow PhilHealth executives felt “worn out” after it.

Lacson: It's their loss

On Saturday afternoon, Senator Panfilo Lacson said that the PhilHealth officials’ failure to attend the upcoming hearing would be “their loss, not the Senate’s,” as they wouldn’t be able to respond to “new issues” to be brought up by other resource persons, “and some new incriminating evidence” in the Senate committee’s possession.

“Having said that, I wish PhilHealth President & CEO Morales well in his fight against the Big C. In all sincerity, I join his family in praying for his recovery. It is unfortunate that these new corruption issues have exploded at a time when his health condition is at a low point,” Lacson said in a statement.

The Senate is investigating allegations of “widespread corruption” in PhilHealth attested to by 3 whistleblowers: PhilHealth board member Alejandro Cabading, head executive assistant Etrobal Laborte, and anti-fraud legal officer Thorrsson Montes Keith.

Laborte and Keith have resigned from PhilHealth, effective by the end of August.

The whistleblowers accused PhilHealth’s executive committee, which includes Morales and De Jesus, of authorizing questionable budget proposals and fund disbursements amounting to billions of pesos. (READ: Duterte creates task force to probe PhilHealth anomalies)

Cabading said a proposal for a P2.1 billion budget for information and communication technology in 2020 was bloated by about P734 million.

Laborte gave the Senate committee documents alleging that a planned P4.8 million purchase of 15 network switches was more than quadruple the items’ market price.

PhilHealth also allegedly paid out some P226 million to dialysis clinics and more than P4.7 million to maternity clinics under its Interim Reimbursement Mechanism, which should have prioritized COVID-19 hospitals.

Keith told the Senate that members of PhilHealth’s executive committee may have pocketed or misspent P15 billion of the state insurer’s funds.

Morales and the other PhilHealth executives have denied these allegations. Although Morales said the agency loses around 7.5% of its funds to fraud every year, the problem is “systemic,” and there is “no reason to doubt” PhilHealth’s top executives. – with a report from Bonz Magsambol/Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.

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