Duterte accepts PhilHealth chief Ricardo Morales’ resignation amid corruption scandal

<i>Photo: PhilHealth website</i>
Photo: PhilHealth website

President Rodrigo Duterte has accepted the resignation of Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) President and Chief Executive Officer Ricardo Morales a day after the latter quit his post over alleged health reasons, Malacañang announced today.

“[D]uterte has accepted Gen. Morales’ resignation, [but we] have yet to find his replacement,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said in a virtual briefing. 

Duterte has asked the embattled PhilHealth president to leave his post, not because of mounting corruption allegations hounding the agency, but because the retired army general is allegedly afflicted with lymphoma.  Morales claimed that he was being treated for cancer shortly after a whistleblower alleged that he was part of a “mafia” that pocketed billions of pesos of the state insurer’s funds. Prior to accepting Morales’ resignation, Duterte said that he could not fire the PhilHealth chief without the existence of solid proof showing that the former soldier had committed corruption.

Read: Health Secretary and PhilHealth Chair Duque claims he has ‘zero tolerance for corruption’

Health Secretary Fransisco Duque announced in a separate press briefing today that Duterte did accept Morales’ resignation. Duque claimed that Morales is undergoing chemotherapy and that staying on the job will only put the latter at risk.

“I have talked to his doctor at Cardinal Santos [Medical Center] and he said that it is not advisable for [Morales] to continue in his job because it will compromise his health, especially [because he’s undergoing treatment for] cancer, [which is] very invasive,” Duque said in English and Filipino.

Earlier this week, Duque, who also sits as chairperson of the state insurer, denied condoning widespread fraud and corruption within the agency, claiming that he simply doesn’t have the tolerance for it.

Many Filipinos are skeptical about Morales’ sudden disclosure of illness, which appears to be a pattern among officials facing corruption allegations. The maneuver is believed to shield them from prosecution, as with the case of president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her “life-threatening medical condition” involving spinal implants,  retired Senator Juan Ponce Enrile and his string of “age-related” ailments, and Senator Bong Revilla and his, erm, hypertension.

Malacañang and both houses of Congress are conducting separate investigations into the PhilHealth mess which has since seen several senior officials tender their resignations, including Vice President for Operations Augustus de Villa and Vice President for Legal Sector Rodolfo del Rosario Jr. The officials allegedly allowed the payment of fraudulent premiums and the purchase of overpriced medical equipment since 2013.

The Department of Justice yesterday said that despite their departure from the government, all suspects will still face criminal charges if they were found complicit in corruption.

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