PRC’s decision to stop swab testing affects returning OFWs

Marje Pelayo   •   October 20, 2020   •   232

MANILA, Philippines — Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III admits that the decision of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) to stop conducting swab tests due to PhilHealth’s unsettled bills with them have greatly affected the returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

PhilHealth’s outstanding bill with PRC has already amounted to more than P930-million.

Bello said around 4,000 overseas Filipino workers have been stranded in the quarantine hotels they are currently billeted. And the longer they stay in these hotels, the greater the burden on the government that is shouldering the expenses in these hotels.

In the past, the DOLE had been able to send home up to 3,000 OFWs daily after undergoing swab tests and quarantine. To date, it can only send home around 300 OFWs every day.

“They are staying longer. While before they can stay for 3 to four days, now they already stay beyond one week and that’s our problem. There are expenses in taking care of our OFWs. So the sooner the issue of payment is resolved, the better for the OFWs and the better for the finances of our government,” Bello said.

The DOLE chief is hoping that the PhilHealth-PRC issue will be resolved as around 100,000 more OFWs are due to be repatriated before the year ends.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is asking the returning OFWs for their cooperation and patience for the delay of the issuance of result of their swab tests.

PCG Spokesperson Commodore Armando Balilo said they have returned to manually encoding the information of these returning OFWs.

“So pagdating po sa airport, katulad ng dati, imbis na CIF po na pinifill-upan bago po dumating dito na sa website ng red cross, e ngayon po iniinterview namin isa-isa yung mga OFW at kinukunan ng background. At pagkatapos po nun, kinukunan ng swab test, maging yun pong dati na mga specimen po ay nilalagyan na rin ng manual na pangalan at kung kelan na swab di katulad ng dati na bar code,” said Balilo.

This, Balilo said, is why it is taking the process up to four to five days rather than finishing it in just one day following PRC’s decision.

Despite this, Balilo said there are now 12 hospitals that will accept and process the RT-PCR tests of OFWs.

“Magiging capacity po sa isang araw po kaya po ng mga 4,000 hanggang 4,500 po na iti-test,” he said.

Balilo added that the PCG will augment its personnel to lessen the delay due to the manual encoding.

The official also said they are finding ways to return to automation or electronic process encoding of individual information.

“On our part, nagpadala na po kami ng mga tauhan ng mga IT personnel para po magaya natin kung ano man ang sistema na pina-iiral ng Red Cross at sa loob po ng lalong madaling panahon ay maresolba natin itong delay,” Balilo said.

Construction of PH’s first ever OFW hospital begins in Pampanga

Marje Pelayo   •   November 27, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — A health facility dedicated to the country’s modern-day heroes — the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs)— is set to rise in Pampanga. 

The 100-bed capacity hospital is set to rise on a two-hectare land donated by the provincial government of Pampanga specifically in the municipality of San Fernando.

The construction of the said health facility has been made possible with the P500 million donation of Bloomberry Cultural Foundation, Inc. (BCFI), an entity established by the operator of Solaire Resort and Casino.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) said that the soon-to-rise OFW hospital will immensely help the country’s modern-day heroes who endure homesickness just to provide for their families and keep the economy afloat.

“We will finally have this very first, modern and state-of-the-art health facility intended solely for the care and medical needs of our OFWs,” said PAGCOR Chairman and CEO Andrea Domingo who graced the kick-off event on Thursday (November 26) along with other key government officials. 

BCFI President Donato Almeda said that many Filipinos rely on the OFW’s contribution to the national economy through their remittances. 

However, very little assistance or recognition is given to them when they finally return home to retire.

Secretary of Labor and Employment Silvestre Bello III, who also graced the event, expressed his gratitude to PAGCOR, BCFI and the provincial government of Pampanga for helping promote the welfare of overseas workers through their commitment to build the health facility. MNP / Beth Pilares

Red Cross resumes COVID-19 testing after PhilHealth settles P500-M partial payment

Marje Pelayo   •   October 28, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) resumed its coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing services Tuesday evening (October 27) after the embattled Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) settled a partial payment of P500-million for its P1.1-billion debt.

In an online press briefing, PRC Chairman Senator Richard Gordon said he already requested all PRC laboratories, including the one at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), to resume the provision of swab testing services to PhilHealth.

Gordon’s announcement was made hours after the state insurer paid half of its arrears.

“So we are ready to test all the people that we have not tested. Iyong mga nasa hotel ngayon, padala nila, tetestingin namin agad iyan (Those staying in hotels, send them to us and we will test them),” Gordon said.

“We are going to have the testing again tonight at the Manila international airport muna, then tomorrow (Wednesday) regular testing will be conducted in full,” he added.

The Senator stressed, however, that though they did not set any deadline for PhilHealth to settle the remaining balance, they will no longer allow any repeat of the financial issues with the agency.

Thus, he said, they will immediately bill the government for future tests.

In a statement, PhiHealth President and CEO Atty. Dante Gierran assured they will expedite the processing of the remaining balance subject to strict compliance with government accounting rules and regulations.

“PhilHealth takes exception to the insinuation that it is reckless and is playing on people’s lives,” he said.

“Its prudence in taking charge of its members’ hard-earned contributions is central to the state health insurer. Its exercise of judiciousness is to protect the people and their funds,” he added.

PhilHealth maintained that it recognizes and assures the accredited laboratories conducting the current OFW RT-PCR tests that it will fast track the processing of its payments upon submission of complete documentary requirements.

PhilHealth pays half of its P1.1 billion debt to PRC

Robie de Guzman   •   October 27, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) on Tuesday said it has already paid half of its P1 billion debt to the Philippine Red Cross for the cost of COVID-19 tests it conducted.

In a statement, PhilHealth said it has released on Tuesday P500 million as partial payment to the Red Cross.

It also assured to expedite the processing of the remaining balance following strict compliance to government accounting rules and regulations.

The agency’s announcement came after PRC chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Senator Richard Gordon lashed out at PhilHealth over its failure to release any payment despite its previous commitment to do so on Monday.

The PRC last week stopped the conduct of the PhilHealth-covered COVID-19 testing due to the agency’s outstanding balances.

Gordon earlier said the state insurer’s delayed payment has put on hold the PRC’s supposed flight to China for the procurement of COVID-19 test kits and other equipment.

The senator also called PhilHealth “very reckless,” and “very irresponsible” for failing to settle its debts and for giving excuses on such a serious and critical matter.

But PhilHealth president and CEO Dante Gierran said the agency is only exercising its mandate to protect their members and their funds.

“PhilHealth takes exception to the insinuation that it is reckless and is playing on people’s lives. Its prudence in taking charge of its members’ hard-earned contributions is central to the state health insurer,” Gierran said in a statement.

“Its exercise of judiciousness is to protect the people and their funds,” he added.

Gierran also assured accredited laboratories conducting the current RT-PCR tests for overseas Filipino workers that the state insurer will expedite the processing of its payments “upon submission of complete documentary requirements.”

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