Ombudsman, audit, civil service commissions can't be part of task force probing PhilHealth: Drilon

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 07 2020 07:13 PM

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon participates in a Senate hearing on February 24, 2020. Henzberg Austria, Senate PRIB

MANILA - Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Friday flagged the inclusion of 3 "independent" commissions into a task force mandated to investigate alleged irregularities in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth).

While President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to create a task force "is in order," the Office of the Ombudsman, the Commission on Audit and the Civil Service Commission are constitutionally-mandated to be "independent offices," Drilon said in a statement.

"The constitutional commissions CANNOT be members of the panel constituted by the Department of Justice (DOJ)," he said.

"The powers of these offices cannot be limited by their membership in the panel and they may, in fact, choose to pursue independent investigation or audit regardless of, or notwithstanding the result of the investigation to be conducted by the panel organized by the DOJ," he said.

Under Duterte's directive, the inter-agency task force will be composed of representatives from the following agencies:

Sen. Sonny Angara described the creation of the panel as a "good move," but agreed that the 3 offices should remain as "independent constitutional bodies."

"Hoping that in working together with executive agencies, this will facilitate the investigation while still maintaining their independence," he told reporters in a text message.

The task force was created to respond to the public's call to look into allegations that the state-run insurance firm has been losing funds due to overpriced purchases and corruption, said Sen. Christopher Go, the president's former close aide.

"Inaasahan natin na ang Task Force na ito... ay gagawin ang lahat upang matuldukan na ang mga problema sa PhilHealth," he said in a statement.

(We expect the Task Force to do everything it can to stop the problems in PhilHealth.)

"Bibigyang-diin nito ang problema sa kabuuan ng organisasyon, sa loob at baba ng ahensya, na sanhi ng tinatawag nating 'deeply rooted and systemic corruption,'" said Go, who proposed the creation of the panel to the President.

(It will look especially into the problem of the entire organization, including the agency's low-ranking officials who are said to be the cause what is called as "deeply rooted and systemic corruption.")

The investigating team was created days after PhilHealth officials were accused of overpricing laptops, software and other tech items needed in the agency's modernization push.

PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales denied irregularities in their IT budget, saying corrupt officials have been demonizing efforts to modernize PhilHealth, as scams could be easily spotted under a more advanced system.

Several senators have rebuked Morales' claim, saying the PhilHEalth chief has either been "misled or coopted."