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Namamayagpag pa rin sila! Ping bares PhilHealth mafia still in control of agency

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A “mafia” linked to past shenanigans continues to lord it over the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), with its key members behind the latest instances of deep-rooted corruption there.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson disclosed this Friday, a few days before the Senate convenes into a Committee of the Whole to investigate the matter.

“It is revolting to see the PhilHealth mafia very much active and still in control of the already depleted resources of the agency, made worse by blatant manipulation of its financial statements. They must have mastered the art of influence-peddling as they seem to continue to gain access to the ‘corridors of power,'” Lacson said in a statement.

Lacson added the Senate now has witnesses who are “willing to testify and detail the pervasive and deep-rooted corruption in PhilHealth.”

He said the new Senate investigation, initially scheduled for Aug. 4, will reveal “the same cast of characters, or at least a number of them, that we already exposed in a Senate inquiry in August last year.”

Lacson referred to the hearings stemming from his “PhilHealth and the Department of Wealth” privilege speech on July 29 last year.

During last year’s investigation, the Senate uncovered several moneymaking schemes at PhilHealth.

“I would say, the syndicate is back with a vengeance – or at least its core group has never left,” Lacson noted.

Last Monday, Lacson and Senate President Vicente Sotto III filed Senate Resolution 475, seeking to constitute a Senate Committee of the Whole to conduct the probe to save PhilHealth from financial collapse.

In the resolution, Lacson cited the claims made by PhilHealth Anti-Fraud Legal Officer Atty. Thorrsson Keith, who resigned from his post due to “widespread corruption” in the agency, unfairness in the promotion process and perceived “unconstitutional” mandatory payment of PhilHealth contributions by overseas Filipino workers.

Keith had also cited the targeted delay of release of his salaries and hazard pay due to his conduct of his investigation involving officers of the PhilHealth.

Lacson said these are the “most recent among the train of issues of perennial corruption and mismanagement in PhilHealth,” with the Senate already having probed the agency last year.

Among the issues the probe will look into are:

* P734 million worth of information and communication technology resources flagrantly included in PhilHealth’s 2020 budget proposal, even if these were not approved by the Department of Information and Communication Technology. An internal audit showed a list of overpriced items amounting to P98.05 million, and indicated a splitting of items through listing of different specifications amounting to P132.2 million;

* PhilHealth’s Financial Management Sector under Senior Vice President Renato Limsiaco allegedly manipulated PhilHealth’s financial statement by overstating its income through reduction of benefit claims. The FMS’ financial statements had a “prior year adjustment” jacking up PhilHealth’s net income in 2018 from P11.6 billion to P21.02 billion. Yet, PhilHealth appears to lack money to pay creditors as in 2019, it has P111 billion in liabilities and only P109 billion in equities;

* The Interim Reimbursement Mechanism used to disburse huge amounts to selected hospitals, some of which were not accredited by PhilHealth.

Meanwhile, the resolution noted a PhilHealth memorandum making liquidation optional for PhilHealth regional offices.

Lacson added that while PhilHealth is an authorized withholding agent of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, it was also reported that PhilHealth did not withhold their income taxes in the case of the IRM releases.

On the other hand, he noted that with the IRM scheme fast depleting PhilHealth’s funds, vice presidents Oscar Abadu (membership group) and Shirley Domingo (corporate affairs) issued an advisory for OFWs to pay their arrears over and above the P2,400 they were required to pay before they leave the country. This was eventually suspended on orders of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Also, Lacson said the PhilHealth Board released directives reversing Supreme Court and Court of Appeals decisions on suspension orders imposed on erring health care institutions, “in a brazen display of grave abuse of discretion.”

He cited as well “cases with clear evidence” against erring PhilHealth employees that were diluted to simple administrative cases by some PhilHealth officers.

In the resolution Lacson stressed as well the urgency of the issue as it affects the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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