Whistleblower alleges Morales coddling ‘mafia untouchables’; PhiHealth chief denies accusation

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 15 2020 07:48 PM

MANILA - A former anti-fraud official of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) on Saturday alleged that the firm's president and CEO Ricardo Morales coddled a supposed "mafia" within the agency.

Speaking to ABS-CBN's Teleradyo, lawyer Thorrsson Montes Keith alleged that high-ranking officials at the state-run health insurer disbursed large advance payments to "favored" hospitals.

"Hindi sila takot. Kaya ang tawag ko sa kanila ay 'mafia untouchables'," he said.

"Kaya nasabi ko na si General Morales was already protecting them. Kasi nga sa tingin ko, bakit gano'n sila katapang?"

Keith, who resigned from his post in July revealing "widespread corruption" at the agency, questioned the irregular disbursement of some P15-billion fund to hospitals for COVID-19-related expenses.

"Dito po, wala pa pong ginagawang trabaho, ibinibigay na 'yung pera," he said.

The interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM) allows the agency to provide advance payments to hospitals tending to COVID-19 patients, but Senate hearings found that a bulk of the amount has been also disbursed to dialysis centers and maternity clinics.

Keith said Morales issued a memorandum allowing the deferment of liquidation of advance deposit, which could have converted the multibillion-peso fund into a sort of "intelligence fund." Such fund is exempt from regular audit procedures.

However, when regional vice presidents flagged the allegedly illegal scheme, Keith said the agency then released another memorandum saying the IRM could be "optional."

The whistleblower also said the agency failed to pay withholding tax for the advance deposits, which he said could run up to a minimum of P300 million and as high as P1 billion.

"Kung hindi sila nagbayad ng withholding tax, crime na po 'yun. Kung gano'ng kalaking pera, plunder na po 'yun," he said.

"Pagsama-samahin mo 'yan, makikita mo talaga na merong criminal intent to steal the money of the government."

During a Senate investigation into the agency's alleged anomalies Tuesday, the Commission on Audit (COA) said PhilHealth missed the 60-day deadline to liquidate the multibillion-peso fund.

PhilHealth has so far liquidated P1 billion of the P14 billion it has earmarked for the advance payment scheme, COA director Cleotilde Tuazon had said.

The agency has also been linked to several anomalies, such as the ghost dialysis scandal and the procurement of overpriced equipment.

In response to Keith's allegations, Morales denied coddling the alleged "mafia" in the agency.

"Ginagawa ko lang po ang tingin kong tama pero itinatanggi ko ho na ako ay coddler ng sindikato. Hindi ko ho kinikilala na mayroon hong sindikato sa loob. Mayroon hong gumagawa ng katiwalian sa loob, pero hindi ko ho alam kung ito ho ay sindikato o hindi," he had said in the first Senate hearing on Aug. 4.

Several PhilHealth officials will also press charges against Keith, who alleged they have siphoned off billions from the company's coffers.

"Meron kasi siyang pinirmahan dito na confidentiality clause and he revealed inside information so we will see what we can do about that," Morales had said.

Keith is among 3 PhilHealth officers granted by Senate legislative immunity to speak more freely on alleged corruption schemes within the state-run health insurance company.

Recommendation to place Keith, board member Alejandro Cabading and former executive assistant Estrobal Laborte under the government's witness protection program has also been approved by the chamber.

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