PhilHealth exec insists COVID-19 fund not lost to corruption

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 11 2020 11:47 AM | Updated as of Aug 12 2020 01:49 AM

MANILA - An official of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) appeared before senators on Tuesday insisting that some P15 billion in funds did not go to corruption within the state-run firm.

PhilHealth legal counsel Roberto Labe identified the regions and hospitals, which received much of the funds under the interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM), a system used to assist hospitals deal with in COVID-19 cases.

"All the releases … were provided with receipts. The IRM was not pocketed by anyone as alleged," he told senators investigating alleged massive corruption in the agency.

Hospitals in the National Capital Region received 29 percent of the funds worth P4.3 billion, followed by those in Central Luzon (P1.96 billion), Calabarzon (P1.25 billion), and Central Visayas (P1.13 billion). These regions have the most number of COVID-19 cases, Labe noted.

"The IRM is not provided arbitrarily. There is a process followed," Labe said.

The Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City topped the list of hospitals that received IRM funds with P326 million, followed by the Philippine General Hospital with P263.3 million, and the Davao Regional Medical Center with P209 million.

The Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City got P204 million while the Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital in San Fernando, Pampanga received P201 million.

PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales said fraud within the state-run firm was "systemic" while admitting he miscalculated the period when he could fix the problem through computerization.

He acknowledged that the agency's "anti-fraud mechanisms were inadequate and inappropriate to address the internal weaknesses."

"The problem is systemic and cannot be solved in 1 year, maybe not even 3 years," he said.

"I miscalculated the time required to get the ICT (information and communications technology) system up and running. One year was not enough and the budget was inadequate for the job."

The Senate is investigating PhilHealth over alleged corruption, with its resigned anti-fraud officer, lawyer Thorrsson Montes Keith, going public with allegations of corruption, saying some PhilHealth officials pocketed around P15 billion in funds through various schemes. 

President Rodrigo Duterte has formed an inter-agency task force to investigate the allegations but has refused to fire Morales, a former Army general he appointed to the agency last year.