DOJ: Constitutional bodies part of task force probing PhilHealth anomalies

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 07 2020 09:27 PM

People crowd outside a PhilHealth branch in Quezon City on August 3, 2020, last day of the General Community Quarantine (GCQ) before Metro Manila reverted to Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ). Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA - Three constitutional bodies will form part of the Department of Justice's task force that will investigate alleged anomalies and scandals in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced Friday that the Office of the Ombudsman, Commission on Audit (COA), Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the Office of the President (OP) would take part in the investigation, which the DOJ is heading.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), among other agencies, are also being tapped to support Task Force PhilHealth in its work, according to a press release.

"The task force will probe reported anomalous activities in the PhilHealth and its regional offices. Its work will include speeding up ongoing investigations and special audits, recommending necessary personnel movements at the PhilHealth, and examination of the corporation’s existing IT system," the statement read.

"It will conduct lifestyle checks on key PhilHealth personnel and examine their financial transactions, and file administrative and anti-graft cases as may be warranted. It can also preventively suspend personnel as necessitated by its investigation."

The task force will also work with the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) and other agencies.

President Rodrigo Duterte had ordered the justice department early Friday to look into anomalies in PhilHealth after former anti-fraud legal officer Thorrsson Montes Keith claimed the state-run insurer's officials pocketed some P15 billion through fraudulent schemes, a charge PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales denied.

Another executive, Vice President for Operations Augustus de Villa, resigned Thursday amid allegations of corruption and possible collapse of PhilHealth next year.

PACC commissioner Greco Belgica on Wednesday also said criminal charges will be filed against 13 PhilHealth officials while 23 would face administrative charges for irregularities.

The President's memorandum authorized the DOJ to recommend preventive suspension of PhilHealth officials during the 30-day probe as well as possible sanctions on erring officials.

It also allowed the DOJ to work with constitutional and independent government bodies and require assistance from other government agencies.

Guevarra said constitutional bodies could be part of a task force headed by DOJ.

"The independent constitutional bodies will perform their core functions as part of the task force. The COA will audit, the CSC will provide guidance on personnel actions, and the Ombudsman will investigate and prosecute anti-graft complaints that the task force may file. Nothing ultra vires. They will just perform these core functions in concert and in collaboration with the executive department, and with a particular target agency in sight," he said.

Guevarra said the heads of the different bodies agreed to join the task force.

"I personally talked to their respective heads today, respectfully sought their assistance, and graciously invited them to join us in the task force. All of them accepted our invitation without any reservation or condition and promised their full support," he said.

The multibillion-peso scandal in PhilHealth comes as the country struggles to address the raging coronavirus pandemic with funding concerns and lack of safety kits. 

The Philippines posted the highest total number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia on Thursday.