The government wants to settle its nearly P1 billion debt to Philippine Red Cross this week so the latter's services to the government could resume, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said Tuesday.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night said he would "look for the money" to settle PhilHealth's unpaid dues to the non-government organization.
Año told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo: “We're targeting to pay them and restart their services within the week. The Philippine Red Cross has been a big help, they have addressed almost 80 percent of our needs.”
Duterte, in his weekly Talk to the Nation Monday night, said the government was currently working on a solution to pay PhilHealth's accumulated debt of P930.99 million.
Duterte’s statement comes after the PRC last week stopped conducting tests being charged to PhilHealth.
“This Red Cross, don’t worry we’ll pay the debt. They’re just looking for a way to present the solution (at) [the Commission on Audit and the Department of Budget). Do not worry, we will pay. It will take time, but we will pay,” Duterte said.
“We’ll look for the money. Not so much but our priority is really medical treatment, medical attention. We’ll pay for it in a short while, do not worry,” he added.
The PRC has been receiving samples of returning overseas Filipino workers, those arriving in airports and seaports, those in mega swabbing facilities, and front-line health and government workers.
Duterte said “money has always been a problem” especially at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We went through massive spending and we’re trying to make both ends meet. We are really stretching our resources,” he said.
Last Thursday, National Policy Against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. said National Policy chairman and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and PhilHealth President and Chief Executive Officer Dante Gierran had been in talks with PRC chairman and Senator Richard Gordon to address the issue.
Gierran said the state insurer would pay its outstanding balance, but also pointed out that his team found questionable items in the agency's existing deal with the non-government organization.
He claimed the contract between PhilHealth and PNRC, which was approved by former PhilHealth chief Ricardo Morales, did not comply with procurement directives of the Office of the Executive Secretary.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said PRC accounted for one-fourth of the country's testing capacity, which means its decision to halt testing could hamper testing efforts.
He said there were public and private laboratories that also have the capacity to handle the COVID-19 tests.
Meanwhile, about 4,000 repatriated Filipino migrant workers are stuck in Metro Manila due to the P930-million government debt that forced the Philippine Red Cross to suspend state-funded COVID-19 tests, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Tuesday.
A negative swab test result is required before OFWs are allowed to go home to their hometowns. Before the PRC suspended its testing, some 1,000 to 3,000 OFWs were ferried to their provinces per day after getting their results. – now down down to a maximum of 300 daily, Bello told reporters.
This meant that OFWs had to wait for "beyond one week" in quarantine facilities, from the previous 3 to 4 days, he said.
Officials earlier said the PRC's testing load had to be diverted to other labs after the suspension.
About 100,000 more OFWs are set to go home in the remaining months of the year, Bello said.
PRC handled about 1 million COVID-19 tests, or around a fourth of the country's total 4.1 million tests so far.