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PRC, gov’t break P1-B ‘debtlock’

MJ Blancaflor



Saying that “we want to test but you have to pay,” Philippine Red Cross (PRC) chairman Senator Richard Gordon said yesterday the PRC is ready to resume coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing once the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) pays its debt in full.

PhilHealth in a statement said it is ready to release payments on 26 October.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque insisted on half payment, saying PhilHealth can only pay as much while a memorandum agreement it has with the PRC on coronavirus testing is under review.

The Department of Justice (DoJ) opinion indicated the agreement between PhilHealth and PRC is not subject to the procurement law.

Gordon said PRC acquires test kits from China and that “China won’t agree to sell them the kits without the P1 billion in debts being fully paid.”

“That’s already P1 billion. In a business, if the debt exceeds P1 million, it becomes in danger of going under,” Gordon explained.

“If we don’t test, we cannot know how fast the disease is spreading already,” he added.

“It’s a stupid assumption that COVID-19 cases in the country are going down. Of course, we are testing less. If we test more, the numbers will surely go higher,” he noted.

Malacañang on Friday urged the PRC to resume the testing for virus infections after the humanitarian organization said it would not continue its services until the government pays its dues in full.

Roque cited President Rodrigo Duterte’s commitment to pay PhilHealth’s debt to the organization.

PhilHealth president and CEO Dante Gierran said the agreement between the state insurer and PRC — signed by his predecessor Ricardo Morales and Gordon — allegedly violated procurement laws.

Tests should resume
“Having said this, we call on the PRC to resume its testing services,” Roque said.

“They should pay the whole amount. Because that’s difficult. We’ll be left in the air. They’ll pay in half, leaving a balance of half a billion pesos — what will happen?” Gordon said.

He added that the PRC is not a profit-oriented organization and cannot shoulder the cost of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test which costs P3,500 each.

Meanwhile, Roque asked the public, including stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFW) and overseas Filipinos who benefit from free testing services, for their “patience and understanding” as the government resolves the matter.

“In the meantime, we have already asked government and private laboratories to assist in RT-PCR testing,” Roque said.

PRC guns for lower rates
Last week, PRC announced that it would halt COVID-19 tests chargeable to PhilHealth, including swab samples from returning Filipinos, mega swabbing facilities and local government units.

He claimed that PhilHealth should be charged a lower amount since the cost of each PCR test has dropped to P3,409 each from 3,500 stated in the agreement, due to an increased supply in the market.

After the PRC halted its tests, the number of samples tested nationwide for COVID-19 dropped and thousands of returning OFW have been stranded since they cannot go home without a negative result on a coronavirus test.

Department of Labor and Employment) Secretary Silvestre Bello III earlier said this has doubled the costs for the government due to the extended stay of returning Filipinos in quarantine hotels.