Justice Department sees no legal issues with Red Cross testing deal with PhilHealth
MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) sees no legal problem with Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) reaches COVID-19 testing deal with the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), but if the state-run health insurer should immediately pay its 900 million peso debt to the private non-profit association lucrative remains to be seen.
The DOJ did not provide a legal opinion on whether PhilHealth was legally obligated to immediately pay its PRC bills, as it was not given any facts on which to base its opinion, “in particular the completeness of requirements and compliance with accounting and auditing rules and procedures. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on the DOJ broadcast on Monday.
“No other way out”
He said the requirements must be met before the issue of immediate payment can be resolved.
“There is no other way out, you really have to comply with the accounting rules and the audit rules and procedures,” Roque said at a press briefing.
He also said that PhilHealth was in fact prepared to pay off half of the debt to the PRC now, but the nonprofit would not accept anything other than the full amount owed to it. “If they take 50 percent now, we’ll pay the 50 percent, but they have to retest,” he said.
The PRC earlier halted its COVID-19 testing for returning Filipino overseas workers and other returning Filipinos due to increased debt from PhilHealth.
The DOJ’s advice supporting PhilHealth and PRC’s deal to conduct COVID-19 testing contrasted with the report from the health insurer’s lawyers, who described the deal as “highly irregular.”
PhilHealth’s legal adviser Alfredo Pineda II had said the insurer should consider rescinding the MoU given its “apparent flaws and even its potential irregularity or illegality.”
Roque, reading the DOJ notice, said the department saw no impediments to the PhilHealth-PRC deal to provide COVID-9 testing.
Under the Universal Health Care Act, the DOJ said, PhilHealth has the authority to enter into contracts with health facilities, professionals and others for the provision of health services.
P100-M cash advance
The DOJ also said that the 100 million peso cash advance from PhilHealth to the PRC required the president’s approval. But he also said approval could still be obtained even after payment.
“Nevertheless, even if [PhilHealth] not having obtained this approval before remitting the amount to the PRC, we are of the opinion that such approval can always be obtained ex post, ”said the DOJ.
Surigao del Norte representative Robert Ace Barbers questioned the advance payment on Monday.
“There is no legal basis as PhilHealth is not authorized to issue or release advance payments as these are public funds, therefore public funds can only be used for services and goods that have already been purchased, delivered or services that have already been rendered, ”Barbers told reporters.
Asked about the opinion of lawyers for PhilHealth on the alleged irregularity of the agreement with the PRC, Roque said the state health insurance company should follow the advice of the DOJ.
“PhilHealth, as a member of the executive branch of government, should legally take the advice of the DOJ into account, provided that only the courts can say with certainty whether or not there will be criminal liability, as there is already acts of a judicial function, “he said.
He also said that members of the PhilHealth board could be granted the good faith defense as they were awaiting legal advice from the Justice Department, and he said there was no legal infirmity when the memorandum of understanding has been executed.
No DOH participation
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told the Inquirer on Monday that the memorandum of understanding had been reached “without the involvement of the Ministry of Health.”
“The Justice Department’s opinion addressed the legal issues raised by board member Al Cabading and Mr. Alfredo Pineda,” Duque said.
“The DOJ opinion, as read by [presidential] spokesperson Harry Roque, declares that there are no more legal infirmities in the [memorandum of agreement],” he added.
The PRC’s decision to stop its COVID-19 testing has left thousands of returning Filipinos stranded in hotel quarantines.
Senator Richard Gordon, President of the PRC, said PhilHealth failed to pay its 1.1 billion peso debt on Monday despite pledges from the health insurer.
In a text message to reporters, Gordon did not mention the MoU, but hinted that PhilHealth’s review of the contract was an attempt to avoid settling its obligations to the PRC.
“We unfortunately note that PhilHealth continues to apologize on such a serious and critical issue,” Gordon said.
“First they say they want to be sure the contract is OK. They needed DBM (Department of Budget and Management). The president told them to pay. Then it was sent back to DOJ , who told them that the contract was valid and that they had to pay, ”he said.
“Should be ashamed”
PhilHealth, he said, “has been treacherous, reckless, and they have violated the contract on several occasions.”
“[The] PRC covered the first huge wave of people to test. Shame on PhilHealth for betraying our vulnerable people, ”Gordon said.
Iloilo representative Janette Garin, former health secretary, said on Monday that the government should seek other labs to perform COVID-19 tests on returning Filipinos.
“[T]here are many labs ready to help, both government and private, ”Garin told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.
Roque said the government was coordinating with eight private labs to process samples taken from returning Filipinos to ensure their COVID-19 test results are released quickly.
–With reports from Jovic Yee, DJ Yap and Nestor Corrales
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