Palace mum on PhilHealth execs’ plan to skip Senate probe

Palace mum on PhilHealth execs’ plan to skip Senate probe

MANILA – Malacañang on Sunday said it will leave to the Senate to make remarks on the decision of two top Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) officials to skip the next Senate hearing into corruption allegations within the state insurer.

In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Palace respects the Senate as a “separate, co-equal branch” of government.

“We leave it to the Senate, a separate co-equal branch, to comment on reports that officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) may skip their hearing, scheduled on August 11, for medical / health reasons,” he said.

On Saturday, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III bared that PhilHealth President and chief executive Ricardo Morales was advised by his doctor to take a leave of absence as he is scheduled to undergo treatment for lymphoma.

PhilHealth executive vice president Arnel de Jesus also informed Sotto that he would not be able participate in the next Senate hearing since he is currently confined in a hospital since August 5 due to an “unforeseen medical emergency.”

Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson earlier said that the failure of the two officials to attend Tuesday’s probe is “their loss.”

“Their failure to attend Tuesday’s hearing is their loss, not the Senate’s, simply because they won’t be there to respond to new issues to be brought up by resource persons and some new incriminating documents in our possession,” Lacson said in a statement.

Lacson, however, said it is “unfortunate” that corruption allegations came at a time when Morales’ health condition is at a low point and wished for his recovery.

Meanwhile, Roque assured that despite the absence of Morales and de Jesus in Senate hearings, investigation of the Department of Justice-led task force into the massive corruption within PhilHealth will proceed.

“As far as the Executive is concerned, the Task Force organized by the Department of Justice, upon the instruction of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, will proceed in its mandate to investigate on the various allegations of corruption in PhilHealth,” he said.

Roque said the task force will conduct an audit of PhilHealth finances and lifestyle checks on its officials and employees.

If warranted, he said the task force may also recommend the preventive suspension on any official to ensure that the probe of the task force would be unhampered.

“There is no turning back as we expect the task force to submit its findings and recommendations to the Office of the President within 30 days after its constitution as directed by the Chief Executive,” he said.

On Friday, Duterte directed the Department of Justice to create a task force to probe widespread corruption within PhilHealth.

PhilHealth anti-fraud officer Thorsson Montes Keith earlier claimed that some PHP15 billion of the agency’s funds had been misused for years by a “mafia” within the state insurer. Azer Parrocha /PNAnorthboundasia.com