At least 4,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were stranded after the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) stopped conducting the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) tests for government due to unpaid P930 million debt by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said on Tuesday.
DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd said the OFW returnees have been stranded in hotels in Metro Manila as they wait for their swab tests and results before they will be transported by the government to their respective provinces.
“Right now, we are talking of at least 4,000 plus OFWs now stranded in Metro Manila,” he said in a virtual Palace press briefing.
Bello said he is hoping that the issue between Red Cross and PhilHealth will be resolve as the soonest possible time.
“So the sooner this issue of payment is resolve the better for our OFWs and the better for the finances of our government that’s a big problem,” he said.
Bello said before the PRC stopped conducting test on arriving OFWs and other individuals asking for Covid-19 tests in government swabbing facilities, the DOLE was able to send 1,000 to 3,000 OFWs back to their home provinces a day.
“Now, the problem about Red Cross not conducting the swabbing test, we are now faced with another stranding of our OFWs, whereas before we succeeded in bringing home, or repatriating our OFWs at the rate of 1,000 to 3,000 a day, now we are talking about of maximum 300 a day so you can just imagine how many OFWs are stranded in all the hotels in Metro Manila,” he said.
He said more stranded OFWs would mean additional expenses for the government.
“That’s our problem and they are staying longer, while before they could stay only as long 3 to 4 days. Now, they are staying beyond one week and that’s our problem in terms of expenses and in terms of taking care of our OFWs,” Bello added.
A negative swab test result is one of the requirements for the OFWs to be able to go back to their home towns.
On Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte assured that the PhilHealth will settle its debts to Red Cross, hoping that PRC chairman Richard Gordon would still continue conduct Covid-19 tests.
Earlier, PhilHealth President and Chief Executive Officer Dante Gierran said the state insurer will pay its outstanding balance, but also pointed out that his team found questionable items in the agency’s existing deal with the non-government organization.
He claimed that the contract between PhilHealth and PNRC, which was approved by former PhilHealth chief Ricardo Morales, did not comply with procurement directives of the Office of the Executive Secretary.
In the same Palace briefing on Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque assured that PhilHealth did not run out of funds because under the Universal Health Care, the government is responsible for the viability of the state insurer.
Roque, however, could not determine when PhilHealth will be able to settle its debts to Red Cross.
“Hindi ko lang po masabi ‘no. I wish I could say within the day pero siyempre po may mga papeles naman na ginagawa (I cannot say when. I wish I could say within the day but of course there are documents being prepared) but I can assure you that at least half of that will be paid at the soonest time possible,” he said. (pna.gov.ph)