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Duterte suspends OFW payments to PHealth, but migrant workers say, scrap it

04 May 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap

OFWs will not be made to pay for PhilHealth while there's a pandemic, says Malacanang

Overseas Filipino workers will no longer have to worry about paying Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) 3% of their monthly salary – for now.

Malacanang announced early today, May 4, that President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered PhilHealth to stop the forced collection of premiums from OFWs amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This came after more than 500,000 OFWs signed two online petitions calling for a halt to the implementation of the Universal Health Care Law (RA 11223) which makes their PhilHealth payments mandatory.
For a Filipino domestic worker who earns the minimum wage in Hong Kong, this translates to an annual premium of around Php10,800, or 450% more than the Php2,800 they had paid in the past, which was not even mandatory.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque made the announcement suspending OFW contributions to PhilHealth, saying payment to the agency will now be on a voluntary basis.

“Sa ngayon po, habang meron tayong krisis, ang naging desisyon ng Presidente, huwag na muna tayong magpataw ng karagdagang pahirap sa ating mga OFWs, lalong lalo na sa panahon na napakadami sa kanila ang nare-repatriate at nawalan na rin ng trabaho,” Roque said.
(For now, while there’s a crisis, the President has decided not to add to the hardship borne by our OFWs, especially now that so many of them are being repatriated and have lost their jobs).

Roque also said the PhilHealth payments will no longer be a requirement for securing an overseas employment certificate, which OFWs need to leave the country.

But he declined to assure OFWs that they will no longer have to worry about the higher fees, saying premiums paid to insurance systems are based on actuarial science, meaning they cannot be arbitrary.

He said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has already suspended the provision in the implementing rules and regulations of RA 11223, which tied PhilHealth payments to the OEC. The IRR was signed by both Duque and PhilHealth President BGen Ricardo Morales.

For his part, Morales said it is up to Congress to amend the provision in the law that sets out the mandatory premium payments by OFWs.
Villanueva and his group have been protesting the mandatory PhilHealth payment since January this year

Despite the temporary relief, migrant leaders in Hong Kong say they will continue the campaign against forced contribution to PhilHealth until the law that mandates it has been totally scrapped.

“Magulo at conflicting ang pahayag ni Sec. Roque. Habang sinasabi niyang may direktiba si Duterte na "voluntary" na ang OFWs sa PhilHealth, sinasabi rin niya na section lang ng IRR ang "suspended" at "habang may COVID-19" lang. So ang totoo dito, its just a suspension,” said Eman Villanueva of Bayan Hong Kong and Macau.

(“Secretary Roque’s statement is unclear and conflicting. While he says Duterte’s directive is that OFW payments to PhilHealth is now voluntary, he also says that only a section of the IRR is suspended, and only while there is Covid-19. So in truth, this is just a suspension”).

Villanueva also says that mandatory contribution by OFWs to PhilHealth is provided by a law that the legislature had passed and approved by the President , so it cannot be altered that easily.

“There should be a legislative process to repeal or amend it,” he said. “Otherwise, lahat ito ay pambobola lang, pampakalma at pampahupa. Another paasa na dyan naman siya (Duterte) magaling.”

(Otherwise, this is all just a trick to calm us down and douse our anger. Another bid to raise our hope, something he is very good at.)

The lesson from all this, said Villanueva is, that there is power in united action and critical thinking. The administration would not have stepped back if we didn’t speak up, he added.

“So strike while the iron is hot. Tuloy ang laban (The fight must continue). Junk or scrap (the) law that provides for mandatory PhilHealth and for the 3-5% salary-based premium increase.”
Anti-mandatory PhilHealth march in Hong Kong in January this year
Under RA 11223, Filipinos are assured of free health care, but sec 4(f) provides that among the direct contributors of PhilHealth are migrant workers, meaning they should pay both the employer and employee share of the premium.

Sec 10 provides that direct contributors who earn between P10k-P60k should pay 3% of their monthly salary to PhilHealth. This share will continue to rise over the next four years, until it reaches 5% in 2024, when the salary ceiling is also raised to Php100k.

RA 11225 was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Duterte on Feb 20, 2019. But it only took effect on Dec 7, 2019, 15 days after the IRR signed by Duque and Morales, was published. Its effective implementation date should have been the start of the current year.

In the IRR, a penalty provision was added, making OFWs liable to pay a maximum of 1.5% percent interest for all their unpaid contributions, compounded monthly.

Also, in a clear violation of its mandate, the IRR added all Filipinos living abroad and those with dual citizenship, in the list of direct contributors who must pay premiums according to the graduated scale.

PhilHealth is a tax-exempt government corporation attached to the Department of Health (DOH), mandated to provide health care services to all Philippine citizens. 

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