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6k OFWs stranded in quarantine facilities due to PRC-PhilHealth fund feud

27 October 2020

By The SUN 

6k OFWs have been stranded in quarantine facilities because of the slow test results

The long wait is back for overseas Filipino workers who are undergoing quarantine in various facilities in Metro Manila.

But where the culprit in the past were the lockdown restrictions, this time around, it is the Philippine Red Cross’ decision to stop conducting tests on arriving OFWs because the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) reportedly owes it Php930.99 million.

According to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, more than 6,000 OFWs are now stranded in various quarantine facilities in the metropolis as a result.

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Bello said in a radio interview that previously the OFWs could get their Covid-19 test results in two to three days, but now it takes at least a week.

Mula pa nung October 15 ay nakatengga na ‘yung mga OFW dahil mabagal yung swabbing. Dati isa dalawang araw lang, ngayon umaabot na ng isang linggo [ang resulta,” said Bello.

(OFWs have been left hanging since Oct 15 because the swabbing process is slow. Before, it took only one or two days before the results were released, now it takes a week).

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Bello said more than 100,000 OFWs are expected to go back to the Philippines this year, pushing the total number of displaced OFWs up to about 1.6 million.

PRC stopped doing the swab tests on newly arrived OFWs and other passengers in airports and seaports on Oct. 16, saying it would resume services once PhilHealth paid its overdue charges.

Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s assurance that PhilHealth would pay its debt, PRC has refused to back down.

This could be due to reports that the lawyers of the country’s state-run insurance firm have issued two separate opinions saying that the agreement entered into by PhilHealth with PRC was “highly irregular” and was made without consulting the state insurer’s board.

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The lawyers recommended that because of this, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and PhilHealth officials should be indicted for graft and misuse of public funds.


Philhealth's ex-president Morales signed the questionable deal with PRC's Gordon

According to a report by PhilHealth legal counsel Alfredo Pineda II, the memorandum of agreement signed on May 5 by former PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales with the PRC had no legal basis and provided preferential treatment to the humanitarian organization headed by Sen. Richard Gordon.

This reportedly echoed the opinion issued on Sept. 25 by Rogelio Pocallan Jr., senior manager of PhilHealth’s internal legal department.

The earlier report said PhilHealth, which was established specifically to provide medical insurance coverage to Filipinos, had no mandate to pay PRC for the costs of the Covid-19 tests it provided.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang Kwentong Dream Love

But when asked to review the questioned MOA, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra reportedly said there was no “legal impediment” for PRC to enter into an agreement with PRC for the provision of health services to Filipinos.

However, according to Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque who disclosed Secretary Guevarra’s legal opinion, the matter of whether PRC should be paid in full for what it is claiming from PhilHealth would depend on whether the necessary documentation had been completed.

In the meantime, DoH is reportedly talking to three private laboratories to step in and conduct tests for OFWs so they could get their results fast.

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