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Over 500k OFWs sign online petitions to halt new PhilHealth fees

03 May 2020

By The SUN


Hundreds of thousands of enraged overseas Filipino workers have signed two separate online petitions calling for a halt to their mandatory payment for PhilHealth premium, which has been raised to more than four times the previous amount charged them.

Starting this year, all Filipinos overseas are required to pay 3% of their monthly salary to PhilHealth, in line with RA 11223 or the Universal Health Care Act, which took effect on Dec. 7 last year yet.

Previously, OFWs were only charged an annual premium of Php2,400 for PhilHealth, and it was not mandatory. Given the minimum salary of a foreign domestic worker in HK amounting to about Php30k, the annual premium they must now pay would be no less than Php10,800, or a whopping 450% increase.
The law which has yet to be enforced abroad, recently came under closer scrutiny because of a circular issued on Apr 22 by PhilHealth president BGen. Ricardo Morales reminding OFWs about their premium contribution, and the penalties for not paying on time.

Morales said in the circular that OFWs can opt to pay their annual fee in full, or pay Php2,400 initially, with the balance to be paid quarterly over one year. By next year, the initial payment will rise to three month’s worth of contribution, with the same quarterly payment for the balance.

The circular set off alarm bells after it was picked up in a signature campaign posted on the online platform, change.org. Within just a week of its launch, the campaign has already been signed by around 350,000 people, with the number growing rapidly per hour.
Another petition carried by secure.avaaz.org and launched by workers in the Middle East is already close to its target of 200,000.

In Hong Kong, Filipino migrant leaders who have taken to the streets to oppose the punitive new fees, have continued their own signature campaign launched in January this year. The first batch of around 20,000 signatures that they collected previously was submitted to Consul General Raly Tejada, to be forwarded to the Philippine government.

Today, May 3, they set up a signature desk on Chater Road in Central, while other campaigners went as far as Turtle Cove in Tai Tam to solicit signatures.

According to Janette Carnay of United Filipinos in Hong Kong, more than 6,000 signatures were gathered on this day alone. She says the social media campaign against the fee collection appears to have enlightened many OFWs about what looms ahead for them, so they are more than eager to sign the petition.

“Kahit sa MTR may pumipirma, at hindi na kailangan ng mahabang paliwanagan,” Carnay said. (Even on the MTR they signed, and we didn’t have to explain at length what the issue is about).

On Chater Road, there were a few who even approached them to ask if they could affix their signature to the petition.
 
Carnay explaining the issue to beachgoers in Turtle Cove before asking for signatures

Another reason seen by Unifil-Migrante for the snowballing anger over the forced collection is the feeling by many OFWs that they have been abandoned or neglected by the Duterte administration amid the global pandemic.

In the Philippines, the government has excluded households to which an OFW belongs, from receiving between Php5k and 8k in financial aid under the so-called social amelioration program.

And while the Department of Labor and Employment was given funding to help OFWs affected by the coronavirus contagion, this was limited to only those who have lost their jobs, or got sick of Covid-19.

Online, even OFWs known for their open support for President Duterte have also been complaining why their families were not given “ayuda” or financial aid when they are struggling like any other Filipino amid the global crisis.

Not a few have accused government officials of using them as “milking cows” for the jobless. They rue that those who don’t work get social welfare assistance and are always the first in line for cash and other benefits while OFWs who do backbreaking work and help bolster the economy don’t get any assistance at all.

Many are appealing for help from lawmakers and other government officials to get the law mandating the steep PhilHealth contribution amended, if not reversed. They say it’s like everybody in government is working against the benefit of OFWs

The growing clamor to stop PhilHealth from forcibly collecting the huge new fees from OFWs has won the support of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr, who twitted that the authorities should “leave the OFWs alone”.

“It is like an income tax which was abolished for OFWs and even their tax-free income filings were destroyed. They are just totally out of the purview of government exactions for which they will not benefit at all,” Locsin said.

RA 11223, which was widely touted to provide free health care to all Filipinos, became law on February 20, 2019 after it was signed by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tito Sotto as Senate President, and President Duterte.

It took effect on Dec. 7 last year, 15 days after the publication of its Implementing Rules and Regulations.

What many people, especially the OFWs, did not realize then, was that the big burden of funding the huge cost of providing universal care in the Philippines, would be passed on to them and other Filipinos living and working abroad.




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