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PRC to resume Covid-19 testing in Manila from tonight

27 October 2020

By The SUN 

PRC stopped its Covid-19 tests on Oct 16, stranding 6,000 OFWs in Metro Manila
 

The Philippine Red Cross has announced that it will resume its Covid-19 testing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport from tonight, Oct 27, after the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth) paid half of its Php1billion debt to the aid agency.

Senator Richard Gordon, who also serves as chair of PRC, said in an online interview that regular testing will be conducted in full from tomorrow, after PhilHealth’s partial settlement of its debt.

“We will test right away. Tonight, I have requested the [PRC] secretary-general and all our laboratories in the entire country to open it to PhilHealth again,” Gordon said in the interview.

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PRC stopped its Covid-19 testing at the Manila Airport from Oct. 16, citing PhilHealth’s failure to pay its service fees, which reportedly reached over Php1billion.

As a result, more than 6,000 overseas Filipino workers were left stranded in various quarantine facilities in Metro Manila, as they needed to test negative before they could return to their respective hometowns.

Recent arrivals said they were given tests, but were told to wait for a week for the result. If they wanted to get the result quickly, or within the 2-3 days that was the norm in recent weeks, they could have it done privately, at Php4,000 per test.

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Non-OFWs who do not get tested for free, are reportedly asked for at least Php4,500 for the test.

But in earlier interviews, Gordon said the fee being collected from OFWs was much higher, and in one case, reached up to Php20,000.

Gordon said that a worker from Washington DC had claimed he was charged P10,000 for the test. Another worker alleged his sister paid Php7,000 to get the result in 24 hours, but did not get it as promised. It was only after she expressed her rage that the result was released.

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“For 12 hours, it costs Php10,000, and for 6 hours, it costs Php20,000,” Gordon said.

OWWA says OFWs should not agree to pay for the test, even if it is fast-tracked

Responding to his statement, the administrator of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, Hans Cacdac, said OFWs should not accept any offers at the airport for them to get tested for a fee as it should be free to them.

Cacdac said the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Transportation are looking into the issue.

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“As for my understanding, Secretary Silvestre Bello III and Secretary Art Tugade are currently talking to confirm this. We advised our OFWs not to engage the offer at the airport to pay for the test..” he said.

Bello, who earlier disclosed the number of OFWs left stranded by the testing delay, also said that the Philippine Coast Guard had switched to manual encoding due to the delay arising from the PRC’s pullout.

Meanwhile, PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Dante Gierran, said the Php500 million payment to PRC was meant to stop claims the state-owned insurer had been reckless in managing premiums paid by its members.

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“PhilHealth takes exception to the insinuation that it is reckless and is playing on people’s lives. Its prudence in taking charge of its members’ hard-earned contributions is central to the state health insurer,” Gierran was quoted as saying.

“Its exercise of judiciousness is to protect the people and their funds,” he added.

Gordon said he won’t use the issue to cut PhilHealth’s Php71 billion budget proposal at the Senate. He chairs the Senate Committee on Government Corporations and Public Enterprises, as well as the Blue Ribbon Committee. 

Both committees have the power to call PhilHealth officials to a Senate investigation and to recommend prosecution of those who may be liable for irregularities in the agency.

 “I don’t operate that way... I’m not gonna use it (debt) as leverage,” Gordon said in today's online press conference.

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