MANILA, Philippines – The owner of a private dialysis center accused of defrauding Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) when filing applications for dead patients was arrested on Monday.
Bryan Christopher Sy of the WellMed Dialysis Center in Novaliches, Quezon City, was arrested when he appeared at the National Bureau of Investigation's headquarters in Manila.
President Duterte ordered Sy's arrest and instructed PhillHealth's interim chief, council members, and regional vice presidents to surrender their courtesy waivers or be fired.
"On Saturday night, I was ordered by the president to tell them to only file their courtesy resignation. All of them, all members of the PhilHealth board, "said Duterte's long-time adviser, Sen. Christopher Go.
On Monday night, Duterte demanded the resignation of the entire PhilHealth board during a meeting in Malacañang, said presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo.
Panelo said the president wanted "a clean sheet" at PhilHealth.
Duterte gave the order to arrest the owners of the private dialysis center on Saturday over allegations made by two former officials that he had rigged PhilHealth.
"The huge amount of 100 billion something [pesos] is totally unacceptable to me, "he said, noting that many sick Filipinos were dependent on PhilHealth.
Its policy was in response to the Inquirer's three-part investigative report on fictional patients, losses of P154 billion between 2013 and 2018 due to undue payments and fraud, and a "mafia" behind padded claims.
In an unexpected turnaround, whistleblowers Edwin Roberto and Liezel Santos were also arrested on Monday.
Like Sy, Roberto and Santos would be charged with arrest and forgery of documents at the Justice Department on Tuesday.
An NBI agent explained that the complainants had to be indicted in court first so they could be called as state witnesses.
After the charges were filed, they would be dismissed as state witnesses, depending on the judge's assessment.
Roberto previously said that WellMed owners told employees to falsify signatures of patients who died in the medical claims the center submitted to the state health insurance company.
In a statement, Roberto said WellMed made successful claims in the dialysis package for the dead patients.
There was no warrant against Sy, who came to the NBI after being asked to question the dialysis scheme. He arrived at the agency's antiques division at around 11am, along with his lawyer Ruel Ilagan.
At 4:00 pm, soon after PhilHealth investigators brought a box of documents to the NBI that allegedly proved fraud, Sy was arrested.
Sy, who wore jeans, a pair of black sneakers and a gray shirt, declined to be interviewed. When asked to comment, he just said, "Sorry, I'm very tired."
Nathaniel Ramos, chief of the NBI's anti-engenhos division, said the arrest, though without warrant, stemmed from the doctrine of continuing crime.
He added that WellMed's claims of PhilHealth were still pending, so the crime continued.
Monday was the first day of the NBI scheme investigation. PhilHealth is the primary claimant in the case.
This means that PhilHealth researchers, led by attorney Eduardo Barbado Jr., filed papers only on Monday.
"Can they be arrested without a warrant?" Asked the Inquisitor. "Well, that's the new doctrine now," said another source, who laughed and shook his head.
Although the documents, which were placed in a brown box, were incomplete, a source said the agency, upon checking them, "found a probable cause" to arrest Sy.
Barbado said the documents, including the fraudulent claim forms, were taken to the NBI because they were summoned by the bureau.
Attorney General Menardo Guevarra ordered the NBI to also investigate hospitals and clinics that would engage with PhilHealth officials and employees to defraud the public health insurance fund.
Duterte himself ordered the NBI to investigate alleged irregularities in PhilHealth, Panelo said.
The president is looking for substitutes for the PhilHealth chief and board members, preferring a retired police or military physician to lead the council.
He also wants a "strict manager" to handle the state's health insurer's funds, Go said.
Although the president still trusts PhilHealth chairman Roy Ferrer, whom he appointed in July 2018, Go said Mr. Duterte was "appalled" by the misuse of PhilHealth funds to pay for dialysis of deceased patients.
"Dr. Ferrer is a doctor of the president and he is very honest. It happened that his men below him pulled one on him. But it is command responsibility. They've let that happen since 2016, "said Go.
He said he would recommend to the president an end-to-end reformulation of PhilHealth and suspension of Universal Health Care (UHC) implementation, "especially that we have not yet found a reliable employee to handle PhilHealth funds."
PhilHealth is mandated to implement UHC law, which automatically provides health insurance to all Filipinos and gives them access to a full spectrum of medical services. –WITH REPORTS BY DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN AND DJ YAP
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