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Nationwide round-up (01/12/21)

PhilHealth, private healthcare officials slapped with charges

THE National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Monday filed new criminal and administrative complaints against officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) over alleged irregularities in a financial assistance program for health care institutions hammered by “fortuitous” events like the coronavirus pandemic.

The NBI filed the complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman against resigned PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo C. Morales, among other former and current officials, for alleged violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

The respondents also face raps for allegedly misappropriating funds in violation of the National Health Insurance Act of 2013. They also face administrative charges of grave misconduct, gross negligence, and conduct prejudicial to public interest.

Three officers of private firm B. Braun Avitum Philippines, Inc. were also named as respondents.

The NBI, in a statement, said the complaint is for the “irregular release and utilization” of the P33.8 million in Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM) funds granted to B. Braun Avitum.

Investigators claimed that PhilHealth disregarded rules in approving and releasing the IRM fund. They said PhilHealth allotted an amount higher than the “correct allowable” IRM fund to health care institutions.

“Computation for the Php 27-billion IRM fund was also erroneously made by PhilHealth,” the bureau said.

Therapy Management Services Philippines, Inc., B. Braun’s wholly-owned subsidiary, also received irregular funding from PhilHealth amounting to P15.9 million, according to the NBI.

“It is also worth stressing that PhilHealth failed to organize a Validation Team” to assess the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and determine the percentage of allowable IRM fund to be granted to the requesting health care institution, the bureau said.

The Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) has previously filed complaints against 25 officials of PhilHealth’s Regional Office No. 1 for alleged involvement in 27 anomalous transactions.

Justice Assistant Secretary Neal Vincent M. Bainto said the amount involved in the transactions is around P1.1 million.

“This alleged fake Pamela Del Rosario account has been discussed and deliberated upon several times by Task Force PhilHealth in its meetings. PACC was the one who did the investigation. The PACC’s Report was also validated by the DoJ (Department of Justice) and we found it sufficient to be filed before the Ombudsman,” he said in a statement. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

Solons push for direct vaccine purchase by private sector, LGUs

MEMBERS of the House of Representatives are urging the national government to allow a “parallel purchase” of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines wherein local governments and the private sector can directly buy from manufacturers.

“(A)allowing LGUs (local government units) and private companies to buy their own vaccine will greatly help the national government in achieving its goal of herd immunity,” Deputy Speaker Rufus B. Rodriguez said in a statement on Tuesday.

Mr. Rodriguez filed Resolution No. 1460, which will allow local officials to import vaccines from pharmaceuticals.

BHW Party-list rep. Angelica Natasha Co, meanwhile, said the government’s task force against COVID-19 should allow the direct purchase arrangement to prevent potential delays in meeting its vaccination goals.

“There will be congestion in the purchasing pipeline and there will be long unnecessary delays up ahead,” she said.

Under the current policy, local governments can buy vaccines only with approval from the national government. — Gillian M. Cortez

Ombudsman drops graft charges vs Abaya in MRT case

THE Ombudsman has dropped the graft charges against former transportation secretary Joseph Emilio A. Abaya and 16 others over a deal relating to the government-run Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3).

In its decision released to reporters on Tuesday, the Ombudsman said it reversed its earlier indictment given proof that the procurement process for a maintenance contract between MRT-3 and Busan Universal Rail, Inc. (BURI) was “above-board.”

“(T)his Office has no recourse except to reconsider its finding of probable cause against said respondents and dismiss the complaints against them,” states the decision.

“The problems hounding the MRT-3 operations appear to be in the implementation stage of the long term maintenance contract, involving issues that were not present during the screening, negotiation and bidding process thereof.”

The Ombudsman indicted Mr. Abaya and 16 others in 2018 for graft and plunder charges over the BURI deal worth over P3 billion. — Gillian M. Cortez

Gov’t warns internet providers of penalties relating to child pornography

THE government reminded internet service providers (ISPs) of their legal duty to block websites engaged in child exploitation as reported cases surge amid increased online activities during the pandemic.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said President Rodrigo R. Duterte has already ordered the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to direct ISPs to immediately install available technology or software that will block online sites engaged in child exploitation.

“For the ISPs, you must be reminded of your obligation under Republic Act No. 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009. Put up technology to block child porn sites,” Mr. Nograles said in a news briefing Tuesday.

He stressed that erring firms will be penalized.

“Online sexual exploitation has always been a major concern of the government. The pandemic has contributed to online sexual exploitation. The victims have a median age of only 11 years old,” he said.

The Justice department has also been ordered to conduct a probe on child pornography.

He said the President directed the Justice department to begin its investigation on child pornography. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

Former justice secretary Aguirre appointed to NAPOLCOM

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte has appointed former justice secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre II to the agency in charge of disciplining the police force.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. on Monday night confirmed the appointment of Mr. Aguirre as commissioner of the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) “representing the private sector.”

“Mr. Aguirre served as Department of Justice Secretary (DoJ) during the early years of the Duterte Administration. This bodes well in his new position to make the police service competent, effective, credible and responsive to our people’s needs,” Mr. Roque said in a statement.

Mr. Aguirre, former classmate and fraternity brother of Mr. Duterte in law school, resigned from the DoJ post in 2018 after Malacañang announced that the President was enraged by the dismissal of charges against confessed drug dealer Rolando R. Espinosa, Jr. and alleged drug lord Peter G. Lim.

The NAPOLCOM, an agency attached to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), has administrative authority and operational supervision over the Philippine National Police. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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