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OFWs make noise anew to get mandatory PhilHealth payments scrapped

11 May 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao

Protesters say the law must be amended to make the contribution truly voluntary 

The fight against mandatory and excessive increase in PhilHealth premium continues.

Thus declared migrant leaders on Sunday, May 10, when they staged another noise barrage or “kalampagan” on Chater Road to call for the scrapping of the premium increase. They staged the first one on May 1, Labor Day.

They also demanded amending certain provisions of Republic Act 11223, or Universal Health-Care Law, to make PhilHealth membership voluntary.
They spoke as some 300 migrants, spacing themselves out on Chater Road in line with Hong Kong’s social distancing protocol, banged steel pans, basins, ladles, plastic bottles and blowing whistles to send their message across to President Rodrigo Duterte.

Those who called for the scrapping of the mandatory membership and premium increase were leaders belonging to the Rise Against Government Exactions (Rage), a coalition formed to oppose mandatory government fees levied on Filipino migrant workers.

They included Dolores Balladares of United Filipinos in Hong Kong, Sheila Tebia Bonifacio of Gabriela Hong Kong and Alan Cayosa Mas of Federation of Active Luzon Groups (Flag).
“Nagsalita si Duterte at sinabi na gagawin daw na voluntary ang membership sa PhilHealth at sinabi mismo … ni Health Secretary Francisco Duque na isususpinde ang ating pagbabayad sa PhilHealth,” Balladares said.

But she said these assurances cannot be relied upon because the law cannot be changed by a mere verbal order.

“Hindi po porke’t sinabi na boluntaryo ang membership sa PhilHealth ay magkakaroon po iyan ng  katuparan o kaganapan. Hindi po kapag sinabi na isususpinde ang ating pagbabayad sa PhilHealth ay magaganap na nang tuluyan iyan,” Balladares said.

She said OFWs must continue to fight the premium hike because, unless the law is amended, membership in PhilHealth won’t be voluntary.
 
OFWs are making their voices heard through a noise barrage

Under PhilHealth’s schedule of premium increase, OFWs are made to pay both the employer’s and the employee’s share, which for 2020 amounts to 3% of the annual income of those earning between P10,000 and Php60,000 a month.

The rate increases by half a percentage point per year until it reaches 5% in 2024, with the income ceiling raised to Php100,000.
From Php2,400 a year previously, a Filipino helper earning the minimum wage in Hong Kong is now required to pay a premium of Php10,800. Those who make the ceiling income of Php60,000 will pay twice that amount, or Php21,600.

When Balladares signaled the start of the noise barrage, Chater Road echoed with the noise of various objects and yelling and howling of protesters.

Cayosa said Rage submitted through the Consulate a petition addressed to the Philippine government signed by 10,000 OFWs against the mandatory PhilHealth coverage in November last year. But he said the issue remains unresolved.

“Mukhang hindi tayo pinapakinggan ng gobyerno,”Cayosa said, eliciting howls of approval. “Kung hindi tayo manghihinaing, manahimik na lang at bayad nang bayad, ang kawawa ay ang pamilya natin sa Pilipinas.”  
 
Mas says HK OFWs have been opposing mandatory PhilHealth membership since last year

Tebia echoed the workers’ sentiment on PhilHealth but also slammed Duterte’s supporters, in particular the Emilio Aguinaldo group, which hung posters condemning groups allegedly aligned with the communist New People’s Army at the rally site.

The posters which were tied on railings right behind the Chater spot where the leaders spoke, displayed the names of Unifil, Migrante, Bayan, Gabriela and other Filipino militant groups insinuating they are part of the NPA.

Tebia angrily said that the DDS had used the event to push government black propaganda against their groups.


“Bakit, may NPA ba dito sa Hong Kong?” (Why, are there NPAs here in Hong Kong?) she asked and the crowd shouted “wala!” (none!) When she asked the crowd what those people are called, they shouted “taksil!” (traitors).

Eman Villanueva, Bayan HK and Macau chairman said at the sidelines of the rally that the workers’ response to the protest against the PhilHealth levy was heartening.

“Ang tawag namin sa ganitong isyu ay dikit-bituka eh. Hindi ito kayang pasubalian. Sa totoo lang, maraming dating tagasuporta ni Duterte ang galit na galit sa polisiyang ito,” Villanueva said when asked for comment.

(We regard this issue as gut-linked. It cannot be ignored. In truth, many of Duterte’s former supporters are very angry at this policy).

“Kaya ang tingin namin, yung isyu mismo ay nagbibigay ng batayan para magsama-sama talaga yung mga OFW dito sa Hong Kong para sama-samang tutulan yung polisiya.
(So we think this issue serves as a basis for OFWs in Hong Kong to link up to oppose the policy).

He said the noise barrage showed OFWs’ rejection of Duterte’s assurance that PhilHealth  membership will be made voluntary because in truth, only an amendment of the law will ensure that they won’t be forced to pay the jacked-up premiums.

“Ang puwede lang namang gawin nila, i-delay o i-defer. Ibig sabihin, yung implementing rules and regulations ay hindi muna ilalabas o ipapatupad, ilang provisions aalisin, pero temporary lang iyan eh,” Villanueva said.
(All they can do is delay or defer (its implementation). Meaning, the IRR won’t be released or implemented yet, or they will take out some provisions, but that’s just temporary).

“Ibig sabihin, baka hinihintay lang nila na mawala o humupa ang galit at saka nila itutuloy,” he said.
(It means, they are probably just waiting for the workers’ anger to dissipate or disappear before implementing the law).

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