The Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) has sentenced a Social Security System (SSS) claimant to imprisonment of about seven years and eight months up to ten years and nine months for attempting to defraud SSS of disability benefits for pulmonary tuberculosis using spurious documents.

SSS Chief Legal Counsel and Senior Vice President for Legal Services Division Voltaire P. Agas said that Julieta S. Panganiban was convicted for two criminal cases – one for false statement or misrepresentation when she submitted fake documents, and another for receipt of the P42,953.99 disability benefit even if she wasn’t qualified.

“The court ordered Panganiban to serve a jail term one year, eight months and 21 days as minimum to four years, nine months and 10 days as maximum and to pay a fine of P5,000 for violation of Section 28 (a) of the Social Security Law. She would also serve another jail term of six years and one day and pay a fine of P5,000 for violation of Section 28 (b),” Agas said.

According to the joint decision by Judge Madonna C. Echiverri of RTC Branch 81, the medical certificate signed by a certain Dr. James Bernard Wong and the X-ray report issued by St. Joseph Diagnostic Center submitted by Panganiban did not come from any legitimate doctor or diagnostic center.

The SSS Medical Program Department discovered the fraudulent claim when it conducted an audit of medical benefits filed with the pension fund. Panganiban’s case was immediately referred to the SSS Anti-Fraud Department for proper investigation.

Panganiban admitted during the trial that the medical certificate and other documents she submitted to SSS were from a certain “Rocky.” The entries in her disability claim application were also prepared by “Rocky,” who afterwards gave her instructions on how to proceed with her SSS application.

Prior to filing the fraudulent claim, Panganiban applied for a disability benefit on the basis of her asthma which was denied by SSS. After receiving SSS’ denial of her claim, she resorted to accepting the offer made by “Rocky.”

The court noted that even if Panganiban acted in good faith when she accepted the offer of “Rocky,” it is not a valid defense for escaping criminal responsibility. In cases such as this, the only inquiry is whether the law has been breached, the decision said.

“Panganiban cannot claim that she only accepted Rocky’s offer in good faith, thinking that that he only wanted to help facilitate her application. Her full knowledge and involvement in submitting the falsified documents and making untruthful statements were enough for the court to find her guilty,” Agas said.

Under the law, the SSS can only file a complaint against the filer or the individual who signed the application forms and directly submitted the claims with SSS. Those who have been victimized by persons such as “Rocky” can file a separate case against these fixers.

“We strongly advise members not to accept any help from people they don’t know personally. If they need assistance with their benefit claims, they can always approach any of our employees or visit the nearest SSS branch. Engaging the services of fixers may lead to granting of their claims which would result in stiffer penalties once discovered by SSS,” said Agas.

At present, Panganiban has not appealed the decision of the lower court and has already started serving her sentence. Atty. Franco E. Bustamante, the SSS lawyer handling the Panganiban case, scored a court conviction last year against Orlando P. Tabadero, who filed a fraudulent disability claim for pulmonary tuberculosis allegedly also with the help of a man named “Rocky.”