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How much should we pay for ‘convenience’?

"All we want now is to be able to go where we want to go without having to cough up extra cash from our already depleted pockets."

 

Travelers and migrant workers alike have welcomed the recent government move to issue International Certificates of Vaccination (ICVs) for COVID-19 as this would no doubt facilitate movement across national borders.

The ICVs, also called yellow card or yellow book, are issued by the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ), an agency under the Department of Health (DOH). These certificates are recognized by member-countries of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The ICVs are available for travelers who got fully vaccinated in the country and are leaving for countries requiring proof of COVID-19 immunization.

Inbound travelers, on the other hand, can use their ICVs issued as proof of inoculation to reduce the length of their mandatory quarantine in hotels before they can travel to their final destinations.

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) fully vaccinated against COVID-19 need to acquire the ICVs if they want to travel and work abroad because the vaccination cards issued by local government units (LGUs) of the localities where they have had their jabs are not recognized by other countries.

To be able to avail of the ICVs, applicants must upload on the BOQ website their vaccination card, passport and valid IDs, and submit them on the day they will get the document. Those applying for the ICV must pay P300 and a “convenience fee” of P70 for a total of P370.

But what’s this we hear that even within the BOQ, there have been questions regarding the agency’s move to tap Pisopay as the payment gateway for the online processing of the fees for the ICVs?

One issue raised is the allegedly excessive fee of P70 charged by Pisopay for processing of online payments.

We’re told that similar service fees charged by other government agencies only range from P15 to P30, or less than half of the financial services provider’s “convenience fee.”

Hence, sources say, Pisopay’s rate is considered prohibitive amid the financial hardships on the part of many Filipinos because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Within the agency itself, we understand that concerned officials who prefer to remain anonymous have sought President Rodrigo Duterte’s help to rectify this allegedly questionable deal.

Has this issue already reached the attention of President Duterte, who has time and again said that he would bear down hard against even just “a whiff of corruption?”

On its website, Pisopay is described as a financial technology company and licensed remittance center that delivers fully-integrated financial and payments cloud-based applications for end-to-end payments of organizations and businesses.

This payment gateway allows users to make online transactions using credit and debit cards, electronic or e-wallets like GCash or PayMaya, and cash or over-the-counter payments like Bayad Center and LBC.

But some quarters have cast doubts on the fintech company’s track record, which, to their credit, were promptly answered.

A Pisopay statement said it “duly filed its Annual Income Tax Returns for years 2018, 2019, and 2020...That Pisopay failed to file Monthly Remittance Return on Income Taxes Withheld on Compensation (BIR Form No. 1601-C) is absolutely false. Pisopay is not, and has not been, subject to any audit and investigation by the BIR for non-compliance with tax laws.”

Nevertheless, Congress, the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) and regulatory agencies have been urged to investigate Pisopay’s contract with the BOQ.

If such an inquiry is held, then the fintech company will have the opportunity to explain their stand and convince the public that its contract with the BOQ passed a thorough vetting process compliant with existing procurement laws.

Travelers and migrant workers have already endured nearly two years of lockdowns and harsh COVID-19 restrictions. All they want now is to be able to go where they want to go without having to cough up extra cash from already depleted pockets.

* * *

Will Senate hearings on Pharmally uncover the truth?

Meantime, back at the ranch, the Senate hearing on the Pharmally controversy continues to unravel more details. We’re waiting with bated breath as to how this probe will end, amid Duterte’s frenzied counter-attacks against the key figures in the Blue Ribbon Committee trying to get to the bottom of it. The key question now is how high up the stink in this awful mess goes. Pass the popcorn, please.

(Email: [email protected])

 

Topics: Ernesto Hilario , Travelers , migrant workers , International Certificates of Vaccination , ICVs , COVID-19 , yellow card , yellow book , Bureau of Quarantine
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