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Solon: Red Cross blackmailing government via PhilHealth debt

A  lawmaker on Monday accused the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) of blackmailing the government into paying it almost P1 billion that the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. owes it.

“I seriously counsel the management of the PRC to stop blackmailing the government. Please remember that every centavo in the coffers of the government comes from every Filipino taxpayer. It is very lamentable that due to the government’s alleged failure to pay its obligation on time, it has been accused of a lot of things,” Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers said.

Under a memorandum of agreement, the PRC has been conducting COVID-19 testing for thousands of PhilHealth members with the understanding that the state health insurer would pay the fees.

But when PhilHealth racked up close to P1 billion in arrears, PRC president Senator Richard Gordon suspended the COVID-19 testing to PhilHealth members until the organization is paid.

“The government has to check the veracity of claims made against it by any entity. Also, it has to review the legality of the agreement made by and between PRC and PhilHealth,” Barbers said Monday.

"But this should not be taken against the government and blackmail it by stopping a supposedly public and noble duty of the Red Cross, Philippine or International. The people ultimately suffer, not the government.”

To the Red Cross, he said: “Be true to your purpose and existence.”

Barbers referred to the agreement between PRC and PhilHealth “illegal”–even though the Department of Justice cleared the arrangement despite laws mandating reimbursements instead.

“Having been in receipt today of the DOJ legal opinion saying that the PhilHealth-PRC MOA is not subject to Procurement Law, PhilHealth will release payment on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, subject to completeness of billing requirements submitted by the PRC,” PhilHealth said in a statement Friday night.

Over the weekend, Gordon said the PRC could go bankrupt if PhilHealth fails to settle its mounting debt.

Gordon, in a report on GMA's "24 Oras Weekend" on Sunday said the PRC is now facing financial constraints due to the state insurer's failure to pay its debts estimated at P930 million.

The PRC earlier this month said it would no longer accept tests chargeable to the PhilHealth, and will only complete the testing of specimens submitted until Oc. 14.

PhilHealth said it will settle its obligations for COVID-19 tests this week, to enable the PRC to immediately resume its swab testing paid for by the state insurer.

No such payment has been made as of Monday, Gordon said.

He added that PRC would cancel its chartered flight to China for the procurement of COVID-19 test kits if PhilHealth’s debt remains unpaid.

Gordon said the PRC was running out of kits.

"To replenish we need to be paid. We are waiting for payment as the Chinese always require cash payment. Because of PhilHealth’s promises to pay, we had chartered a flight to China for tomorrow," Gordon said.

"But due to PhilHealth's non-payment, we do not have the money to pay for the test kits and other equipment worth $6 million to $8 million just for this particular shipment. We will have to cancel the flight tomorrow if no payment is made," he added.

Gordon said he just borrowed money from other members of the International Federation of Red Cross to pay for the chartered flight to China scheduled on Tuesday.

Gordon said it will be rescheduled to another date if PhilHealth was unable to deliver its commitment to pay by Monday.

"We sadly note that Philhealth keeps giving excuses on such a serious and critical matter," the PRC chairman said.

"Philhealth has been perfidious, reckless, and they have been in violation of the contract so many times. PRC covered the first humongous wave of people to be tested. Philhealth should be ashamed of themselves for betraying our vulnerable people," Gordon said. 

Despite this, Gordon said the PRC is still willing to resume accepting PhilHealth-funded COVID-19 tests once the debt is settled.

The Department of Health last week admitted that the country’s ability to test has been seriously affected by the suspension of PhilHealth’s testing services.

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