Palace to Red Cross: Resume Covid tests

MALACAÑANG urged the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) to resume its coronavirus testing as it reiterated President Rodrigo Duterte’s commitment to pay the P930-million debt of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

In this file photo A Red Cross health workers collect specimen by swabbing the throat and nose of fellow red cross health workers as who undergo the COVID-19 mass testing at its headquarters in Mandaluyong City. Photo by RUY L. MARTINEZ

Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the “controversy should be over” since Duterte himself gave assurance on the full payment of the state insurer’s obligation to the PRC.
“The President has already committed to PhilHealth that it will be paid and so I think it will be paid if not this week, then next week at the latest,” Roque said during an interview with CNN Philippines last week.

Roque said since the “undertaking to pay comes from no less than the President last Monday, I believe Sen. [Richard] Gordon should no longer have any doubts that it will be paid. I think that assurance should be enough for the Red Cross to resume its testing.”

Roque said 50 percent of the arrears would be paid “if not this week, then next week at the soonest.”

He said there was now “an understanding” between the government and the PRC that the
coronavirus testing services would continue.

“That’s why we give utmost priority to settling at least 50 percent because it is to the interest of both Red Cross and the country that we continue our PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing since the Red Cross is responsible for 25 percent of all our testings,” he said.

Last week, PRC decided to halt the coronavirus tests chargeable to PhilHealth after it failed to settle its outstanding balance.

On Monday, President Duterte promised PRC that the government would pay the PhilHealth debt.

On Friday night, the last obstacle to the release of the payment by PhilHealth was settled when the Department of Justice, in a legal opinion, affirmed the memorandum of agreement between the PRC and the state insurer.

PhilHealth President and Chief Executive Officer Dante Gierran sought the legal opinion, claiming that while the PRC did not go through the “regular competitive bidding process” under Republic Act 9184 or the “Government Procurement Act,” there were still requirements that “needed to be done,” citing publication in the Government Procurement Board and on the state insurer’s website.

Meanwhile, Roque urged the public for their patience, assuring them that the government was working on settling the issue with PRC.

He likewise reminded them that there were other facilities that can cater to their testing needs.

“We likewise ask the public, including our stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and overseas Filipinos (OFs), for their patience and understanding as we resolve this matter at the soonest possible time,” Roque said.

“We have already asked government and private laboratories to assist our OFWs and OFs in their RT-PCR(reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) testing,” he added.

To date, the number of repatriated workers cooped up in quarantines owing to delayed results of coronavirus tests has reached 6,000.

Overseas workers and others returning from abroad are tested for the coronavirus at the airport and taken to quarantines to wait for their test results. They have to test negative for the virus before they could be allowed to go home.

Until the PRC stopped its testing, authorities managed to transport about 1,000 to 3,000 OFWs to their provinces every day. Now, due to the delay in test results, only around 300 were being brought home daily.

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