MANILA - While his agency is in the thick of a corruption investigation, the head of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) has been advised by his doctor to take a leave while undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma.
In a medical certificate submitted to the Senate Committee of the Whole, currently investigating alleged anomalies at PhilHealth, the attending oncologist of PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales said he was going through cancer treatment at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center.
This means Morales will miss the continuation of the Senate investigation into PhilHealth set on Tuesday.
"He is advised to complete 6 cycles of treatment during which he will be immunocompromised and vulnerable to opportunistic infections. It is, therefore, in his best interest that I have advised him to take a leave of absence," said the oncologist, whose name was redacted on the document dated August 7 and released to the public on Saturday.
Morales will go through a repeat PET CT scan following his chemotherapy cycles, "after which I shall make a recommendation when he can resume work," the doctor said.
The document said Morales is suffering from Diffuse Large B cell Lymphoma. Medical references described the disease as an aggressive or fast-growing form of lymphoma that affects white blood cells, developing in lymph nodes.
It is "considered potentially curable," according to the US Lymphoma Research Foundation.
Another PhilHealth official, Executive Vice President and COO Arnel De Jesus, sought to be excused from the next Senate hearing, citing several illnesses.
In his letter to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, De Jesus said he won't be able to appear on the August 11 hearing "due to an unforeseen medical emergency." It cited 6 illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes.
"Rest assured I will make myself available when my health permits. I respectfully ask that my privacy be respected during this time," read the letter.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson wished Morales well in his cancer battle, saying: "It is unfortunate that these new corruption issues have exploded at a time when his health condition is at its low point."
He said the failure of the PhilHealth officials to attend the next Senate hearing would be "their loss, not the Senate's."
"...[T]hey won’t be there to respond to new issues that the resource persons will raise against them as well as to new incriminating documents in our possession," he said.
PhilHealth is facing legislative investigations and an inter-agency task force probe over allegations of systemic corruption, with its resigned anti-fraud officer, lawyer Thorrsson Montes Keith, saying some PhilHealth officials had pocketed around P15 billion in funds through various schemes.
He also claimed that several items for the agency's IT department were overpriced by the millions.
President Rodrigo Duterte has formed a task force to investigate alleged anomalies at PhilHealth, even as he has refused to fire Morales, a former Army general he named to the post last year.
His anti-crime commission earlier this week said it already submitted an initial report on its corruption investigation on PhilHealth, with cases being prepared against 36 "high-ranking and mid-level" officials over violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Morales has admitted to shortcomings in addressing corruption at PhilHealth.
- with reports from Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News