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Palace has P1 billion reasons for Red Cross to resume tests

The government is urging the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) to resume the state-funded coronavirus testing after President Rodrigo Duterte gave his assurance that he will settle the almost P1 billion debt of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), Malacañang said on Wednesday.

“The President has committed to pay, I don’t think there’s any reason for Red Cross to doubt that the President committed to pay. And because of this, I believe testing should continue because the Red Cross has been assured that they will be paid,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in an interview over CNN Philippines.

He said the “controversy should be over” because the President himself committed to settle the P930-million obligation of PhilHealth to the Red Cross.

“I think that assurance should be enough for the Red Cross to resume its testing,” the Palace official said.

Roque said the government planned to settle at least 50 percent of the debt to the Red Cross so that it could resume its PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing, which accounts for about 25 percent of the country’s capacity of 4.1 million tests.

The PRC stopped testing of arriving Filipino workers in airports and seaports on Oct. 16.

Since the halt in PRC’s testing, over 4,000 overseas Filipino workers are now stranded in Metro Manila due to the delayed release of their swab results.

“The sooner this issue of payment is resolved, the better for our OFWs and the better for the finances of our government. This is a big problem,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Tuesday.

On Monday night, Duterte said the government will settle PhilHealth’s debt to the organization.

“Do not worry, we will pay, it will take time but we will pay. We’ll look for the money. I know that this payment, it will be done] in a short while. Do not worry,” Duterte added.

PhilHealth said on Wednesday it has enough funds to pay its debt to the PRC.

The state insurer is only awaiting clearance from relevant agencies after the recently-appointed president and CEO Dante Gierran ordered a review of its contracts and procurement, spokesman Rey Baleña said.

“We have enough funds to pay the debt, it's included in our COVID-19 response.,” Baleña said during an interview on ABS-CBN's Teleradyo.

“The only issue here is Gierran would like to ensure everything is in order before we continue our payment to Red Cross. It's part of our due diligence, of proper management of our member's funds,” he said in Filipino.

PhilHealth members can still get tested for COVID-19 as the government has tapped other laboratories for the purpose, Baleña said, citing the Health Department's announcement.

PRC President Senator Richard Gordon earlier said PhilHealth should be investigated for its failure to make payments.

PhilHealth was recently embroiled in a corruption scandal that led to the ouster of several top officials and the filing of charges against them.

Earlier, Roque said "accounting reconciliation" had caused delays in the repayment of PhilHealth’s debt to the PRC.

In other developments:

• Albay Rep. Jose Clemente Sarte Salceda urged his colleagues to act urgently on House Bill 7578, or the Philhealth Reform bill. The measure, he said, is an extensive House counterpart bill to Senate Bill 1829, that has been approved in principle by the committee on health, chaired by Senator Christopher Go on Wednesday. “This is an opportunity for the House of Representatives to demonstrate its commitment to the transparency and accountability in governance that President Duterte calls upon us to uphold,” Salceda said.

• Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri welcomed the President’s involvement in settling PhilHealth’s debt to the PRC. He said the government had partnered with PRC to provide COVID-19 testing for all arriving OFWs but it has also helped local government units that need PCR testing for their constituents. With Maricel V. Cruz and Macon Ramos-Araneta

Topics: Philippine Red Cross , Rodrigo Duterte , coronavirus testing , PhilHealth
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