PhilHealth senior officer resigns amid billion-peso corruption probe

PhilHealth senior officer resigns amid billion-peso corruption probe

PhilHealth senior officer resigns amid billion-peso corruption probe

Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) Vice President for Operations Augustus de Villa has tendered his “irrevocable resignation” amid ongoing investigations of massive corruption into the government insurer.

De Villa did not state his reasons for leaving the agency, but in his resignation letter dated yesterday, he said that he has briefed “the Vice-Chairman [who] knows fully well the reasons” for his departure.

“Be assured that I will make myself available for the ongoing investigation in aid of legislation in both Houses of the Congress of the Philippines,” De Villa attested.

Philhealth’s Vice Chairman is retired army general Ricardo Morales, who is also also the insurer’s president and chief executive officer.

De Villa’s resignation comes amid allegations that some PHP15 billion (US$305 million) worth of funds paid by Filipinos to the agency were pocketed by an alleged mafia syndicate in 2019. The allegation came from a whistleblower named Thorsson Montes Keith, another resigned Philhealth personnel who was previously the agency’s anti-fraud officer. Keith said that the procurement of overpriced COVID-19 test kits figured into the embezzled funds.

Keith also alleged in a Senate hearing earlier this week that Philhealth chief Morales ordered him to “massage” or hide the existence of the overpriced test kits. Morales denied saying this, chalking it up to a “simple misunderstanding” between him and the former PhilHealth officer. Morales also denied being linked to the alleged massive corruption scheme in the agency.

Back in May, lawmakers questioned PhilHealth’s supposedly overpriced PHP8,150 (US$165) testing package for COVID-19. Two weeks later, the agency scaled the test’s price down to less than half at PHP3,409 (US$69).

Keith said that aside from the widespread corruption, he resigned from the agency because his salary didn’t come on time and there was “unfairness in the promotion process. ”

Read: PhilHealth pushing to postpone Universal Healthcare due to funding woes

Earlier this year, Morales pushed for the postponement of the implementation of the Universal Health Care Law, saying that there were not enough funds to enact the program. He claimed this was because of poor collection from PhilHealth’s contributors, which was caused by the COVID-19 quarantines.

Despite PhilHealth’s insistence that Keith’s claim were “malicious,” “not substantiated by evidence,” and that no such corruption in the agency exists, Senate hearings revealed that enormous looming deficits will cause the agency to “collapse” or run out of funds by 2021. 

The enormity of the scandal has reached the Malacañang Palace, which said that it will be conducting its own investigations into the alleged unscrupulous dealings. However, President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this week said that he has no plans to fire Morales.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque told reporters that Duterte will not fire the retired army general unless evidence of corruption can be linked to Morales.

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