Former Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) anti-fraud officer Thorrsson Montes Keith spoke to senators on August 4 to disclose the potential P15 billion stolen by executives of the corporation.
“Naniniwala po ako na ang perang winaldas at ninakaw ay humigit kumulang P15 billion,” said Keith during the Senate hearing.
The probe, which was filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto and Senator Panfilo Lacson, would focus on three main issues: the implementation of the interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM), the overpriced information technology equipment reaching P734 million, and the alleged manipulation of its “financial status”, Lacson said.
Keith referred to the former two as fraudulent schemes run by syndicates, and added that what he saw in PhilHealth could be called the “crime of the year”.
“Ang akin pong natuklasan sa PhilHealth ay matatawag na krimen ng taon dahilan sa pag sindikato sa pamimigay ng cash advance – ang Interim Reimbursement Mechanism, at pag overpriced at pa ulit-ulit na pagbili ng IT equipment,” said Keith.
Keith added that the continuous presence of the syndicate in PhilHealth was the reason for the endless corruption that damaged the agency.
“Naniniwala po ako na ang dahilan kung bakit hindi natatapos ang korapsiyon sa PhilHealth at naging kultura na po nito ay ang pagtatalaga ng mga sindikato o mafia ng kanilang kasamahan, kasabwat, o kapwa-sindikato sa mga matataas na posisyon na nakakatulong sa kanilang ilegan na operasyon,” Keith said.
Keith resigned on July 23 citing “widespread corruption” as the cause. In his resignation letter he explained other reasons such as his opposition to the mandatory payment of PhilHealth contributions by OFWs, unfairness in the promotion process, and delayed payment immediately after he began investigation of PhilHealth officers.
The charges have garnered support from fellow members of PhilHealth, various Senators, and progressive organizations.
Alejandro Cabading, PhilHealth board member, said that he had inquired about the proposed P2.1 billion information technology project and had been trying to bring light to the irregularities that the auditors of the agency have flagged.
“We are already on the cliff financially. I could say confidently. We’re on the brink (of collapse),” said Cabading.
Senator Francis Tolentino raised the situations where some hospitals had defrauded PhilHealth by collecting claims for Covid-19 cases even if the patients had been admitted for different reasons, such as a stabbing victim in Carmen town, Cebu who was declared to be positive for the virus.
“That is the danger now with the IRM,” Cabading confirmed, “If that’s the trend, I don’t think the money of PhilHealth would last even up to end of the year if we cannot plug it immediately,” he said.
Former PhilHealth executive assistant Estrobal Laborte, who had previously expressed enthusiasm in the Senate inquiry, backed out at the last minute due to a security threat.
“Si Col. Laborte nag-log in pero subsequently nag-leave siya ng meeting hindi na nagpasabi and then after the meeting, nagpasabi siya through a common contact na kung puwede beg off na lang siya di na siya mag-testify for several reasons, among them ‘yung physical security,” Lacson said.
“Institutional bureaucratic corruption permeates not only through PhilHealth but also the whole of government.”Philippine Medical Students Association (PMSA) statement
“Murky, stinking swamp”
Senator Panfilo Lacson blamed officials who have endlessly found ways to enrich themselves while also falsifying official records to prevent the Commission on Audit from investigating them.
“PhilHealth is a murky, stinking swamp that many of its good and well-meaning people, from the officials to their rank-and-file employees, want drained not just of some corrupt but well-entrenched officials … but of a deeply rooted, mafia-like syndicate that controls the resources of the corporation,” Lacson said.
In a statement, the Philippine Medical Students’ Association (PMSA) expressed outrage by the blatant and non-stop corruption in PhilHealth, contrasting their alleged theft with the rampant difficulties experienced by millions of Filipinos
“While millions of families go hungry and thousands of jeepney drivers further economically marginalized by the pandemic are forced to beg for help, PhilHealth officials are once again being investigated for allegedly pocketing an estimated P10.2B through fraud,” they said.
PMSA noted that as billions of taxpayer money and members’ monthly contributions pour in, PhilHealth has done nothing but be a “fat cash cow for corrupt officials”.
“The assumption that a mafia runs PhilHealth seems to be true. However, PMSA believes that institutional bureaucratic corruption permeates not only through PhilHealth but also the whole of government, only serving to coddle and strengthen the mafia,” they said.
PMSA added that at the peak of the corruption allegations, PhilHealth claimed that its funds would not last through the Covid-19 pandemic unless the monthly premium payments were increased and that the government infused a bigger subsidy.
“Is this to be allowed? Serious questions ought to be raised. Why four billions of hard-earned taxpayers’ money into the “mafia-run” PhilHealth instead of directly allocating these to government hospitals and public health facilities and services? Why should members pay monthly premium contributions only to have their money embezzled by corrupt executives?”
Following the initial Senate hearing, two officials of the corporation have decided to skip the Senate panel probe next Tuesday, August 11, citing medical reasons.
Lacson noted that these officials would be on the losing end, as they wouldn’t be able to respond to new developments in the hearing.
“Their failure to attend Tuesday’s hearing is their loss, not the Senate’s, simply because they won’t be there to respond to new issues to be brought up by resource persons and some new incriminating documents in our possession,” Lacson said in a statement.
In a medical certificate submitted to the Senate on August 7, it was revealed that PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales was advised to take a leave of absence due to lymphoma and to undergo a series of chemotherapy treatments.
Coincidentally, in another letter given to Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto on the same day, executive vice president and chief operating officer Arnel de Jesus announced that he would also not be able to attend the hearing due to “an unforeseen medical emergency.” [P]
Photo credits to Senate of the Philippines