"Time to put that money into good news."
It’s a shame that COVID-19 testing services by the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) for thousands of repatriated overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been stalled due to the delay in the payment by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth). The amount has gone over P930 million.
President Duterte guaranteed the Red Cross at least half of PhilHealth’s obligation.
Some 40,000 OFWs have been reportedly “stranded” in over 500 hotels aka “quarantine facilities” awaiting results of their swab tests from Red Cross.
What should be a three-day stay at the hotels has extended to one week or more as the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) took over the encoding of the swab test results.
The President certainly appreciates the vital contribution of the OFWs such that he approved of Senator Bong Go’s legislative proposal for the creation of the Department of Overseas Filipinos, envisioned to do a better job serving and protecting OFWs.
At least 175,000 of over 2.2 million OFWs have been repatriated to the country in the past six months and tens of thousands more are expected to return owing to job loss and continued pandemic devastation abroad.
We can’t blame the OFWs for denouncing the Red Cross for such a disservice, turning back on these repatriates who are desperately waiting to go home and rejoin their families.
But it is truly not a coincidence that this happened in the wake of the multi-billion peso irregularities being exposed and graft charges being pursued against those involved in the PhilHealth Mafia corruption.
Since the declaration of the state of public health emergency, Red Cross had been a partner of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) as the service provider for the RT-PCR testing of all returning Filipinos arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
The mandatory swab test was free of charge for both returning OFWs and non-OFWs at the expense of PhilHealth until it decided to stop paying for the testing in July, as the Senate poised to investigate the massive irregularities involving the state insurer’s top officials.
Since then, swab testing has been conducted by private service providers for non-OFWs while the Red Cross continued administering swab tests for OFWs.
After the swab testing at the NAIA, most travelers check in at hotels for their mandatory quarantine until they receive their test results.
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) pays for the costs of OFWs’ stay at some 500 Metro Manila hotels, which have been making a killing especially now.
So while the private testing laboratories release results within 24-48 hours, OFWs wait for far longer for their swab test results.
There is a government quarantine facility at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan run by the BOQ and PCG. The remote location and the thought of crowding discourage travelers from staying there.
More and more OFWs are coming home, and they need to be tested upon arrival.
The government, as well as the Red Cross, should not turn their back on the OFWs.
We must not forget that all these years, OFWs, “Mga Bagong Bayani,” have helped keep the country’s economy afloat.
It is imperative for the administration, particularly the IATF, to settle the score with the Red Cross over the unpaid swab testing services.
We believe PhilHealth has the money to pay for it. It is time it is put into good use.