NEWS | OFWs stranded due to PhilHealth’s P930-million debt to PRC

Photo from Business Mirror

Since the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) has not settled its ₱930 million debt to the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), the COVID-19 testing conducted by the PRC remained limited. As a result, the government decided to reroute COVID-19 specimens to laboratories around Metro Manila, causing over 6,000 stranded Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in quarantine facilities.

Decision of PRC

On October 15, the PRC decided to limit its COVID-19 testing until PhilHealth settles its P930-million debt. PhilHealth’s last payment to PRC was made last September 8 which totaled to ₱1.6-billion covering 433,263 tests. However, PRC claimed that there was no mention of a forthcoming payment in PhilHealth’s letter to PRC, dated October 6.

Moreover, the PRC operates 21 out of the 147 licensed testing hubs all over the country and conducted over 1 million tests, which contribute to 26%of all the tested samples in the country.

“This is a difficult decision [for] a humanitarian organization such as the PRC to make but it has to be made. The PRC does not have unlimited resources to replenish the testing kits for its laboratories unless PhilHealth, its major creditor, settles its lawful obligations to us,” PRC stated.

For the time being, PRC will only test individuals who booked through their hotlines, private companies and organizations, local government units (LGUs), and other government agencies who have testing agreements with PRC and up-to-date payments. This means that OFWs, individuals arriving from airports and seaports, medical frontliners, and government workers will not be tested by the PRC.

Stranded OFWs

During an interview last October 21, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III stated that over 6,000 OFWs are stranded in 126 quarantine facilities around Metro Manila waiting for their test results. Due to this, expenses for their accommodations also increased.

“Mula pa noong October 15, nakatengga na ‘yung ating mga OFWs dahil mabagal ‘yung swabbing process. Dati-rati, isa o dalawang araw lumalabas ang resulta, ngayon umaabot na ng isang linggo,” Bello shared.

Specimens that are supposedly for PRC were rerouted to big laboratories around Metro Manila and its nearby provinces. These laboratories include Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital (Tala), Las Piñas General Hospital and Satellite Trauma Center, Lung Center of the Philippines, PNP Crime Laboratory, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, San Lazaro Hospital, Ospital ng Imus, and Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital. There are also 10 private labs who offered to test COVID-19 samples.

Bello said that test results have a longer processing period due to the lack of proper facilities of these substitute laboratories.

According to reports, there are 1000 to 3000 OFWs entering the Philippines on a daily basis. An additional 100,000 workers are still expected to go back to the country by the end of this year.

“In the meantime, dahil hindi nag se-service ang Red Cross, mayroon tayong ginagamit na grupo that was suggested by the Bureau of Quarantine. But we hope na mas mabuti ang Red Cross pa din,” Bello added.

Pay to Settle Issues

PhilHealth President and CEO Dante Gierran, together with other officials, already discussed the settlement of their debt with the PRC. Final data arrangements are being made to resolve the issue.

“We want to pay, only that we have to clear some legal issues affecting the memorandum of agreement that was entered into earlier between the management of PhilHealth and the Philippine Red Cross,” Gierran stated.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque also revealed that the government will settle 50% of PhilHealth’s debt. He pointed out that ₱500-million is already a substantial amount for PRC to continue conducting its COVID-19 tests.

However, during a press briefing last October 23, Senator Richard Gordon, Chairman of PRC, demanded that the government should pay the whole amount of PhilHealth’s overdue balance. He also insinuated that the government is not coordinating with them about the terms of the payment.

“Ewan ko kung saan galing yung 50%, hindi ko alam yung 50%. Sila lang nagsasabi. They talk to themselves all the time,” Gordon stated. “Tingnan mo ha, babayad ka ng kalahati… Anong mangayayari ngayon? Papalakihin na naman?”

Gordon also stated that PRC cannot sustain both the costs of the test kits and the salaries of their medical technologists so they are counting on the money that will come from the government.

On Friday, PhilHealth stated that they will settle their debt with PRC today, October 26.

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The Manila Collegian

The Manila Collegian

The Official Student Publication of the University of the Philippines Manila. Magna est veritas et prevaelebit.

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