Saturday 7am, November 7, 2020
Cases globally: 49,613,995:
MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Richard Gordon yesterday said he was not offended nor did the humanitarian organization Philippine Red Cross (PRC) feel alluded to by President Duterte’s remarks during an Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) meeting at Malacañang.
“Hindi kami mukhang pera (we’re not greedy). They ordered the (COVID-19) tests, we did them. Don’t you think they should pay?” concurrent PRC chief Gordon said.
He stressed that it was the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) that “borrowed” or owed money to the PRC, which was primarily involved in the conduct of reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction tests for returning overseas Filipinos.
Duterte, during Thursday’s meeting, was heard saying “mukhang pera” (greedy) just as Health Secretary Francisco Duque III was explaining the “intervening events” that resulted in the slowdown of the conduct of COVID-19 testing.
The PRC suspended swab testing for those who use their PhilHealth card as payment guarantee.
“Mukhang pera,” Duterte said, implying that PRC was in it for the money, just as Duque was reporting that the PRC had resumed operations after receiving partial payment from PhilHealth, which owed the humanitarian organization nearly P1 billion but paid P500 million last Oct. 27.
In a separate videoconference with reporters yesterday, Gordon said he took Duterte’s statement with a grain of salt, adding that the President might have just had a sudden outburst after not getting the right information.
He said Duterte might be referring to private firms taking advantage of PRC suspension of COVID-19 testing. He also indicated that Duque’s way of reporting to the Cabinet could have also influenced Duterte’s train of thought.
“So I’m thinking of it in that manner… so he could be in that mindset, he had a slip, maybe he had something to say to us (PRC). I don’t think we deserve it, it’s not true, we’ve been helping the government for so long, we’ve been working with the government since our founding, and you know the government has to work with us, because it’s in the law (Bayanihan). We’re not government, we don’t have an appropriation from government but all Red Cross societies in the world have to be approved by the ICRC and the government has to respect the Red Cross’ fundamental principles,” Gordon pointed out.
He maintained that the PRC is a partner in disasters “to alleviate human suffering, uplift human dignity.”
“So I’m not offended. I think the President should really be careful because, sometimes, he doesn’t realize his statement is really not presidential,” Gordon said.
Prior to the IATF meeting, Duque attributed the low number of results reflected in the DOH data on COVID-19 to the suspension of PRC operations and the preventive temporary closure of laboratories in areas hit by Super Typhoon Rolly last weekend.
Apart from the onslaught of the recent typhoon, the All Souls’ and All Saints’ holidays also halted testing operations that resulted in the lower number of COVID-19 cases in DOH statistics.
“While (there is a) significant but temporary decrease in testing capacity, there are 11 other public and private laboratories which examined those which were not addressed by PRC. They filled the gap caused by the suspension of tests at PRC,” Duque said during the meeting.
In a statement released Thursday night, PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Dante Gierran said the state insurer paid another P100 million to PRC.
He gave assurance that they are fast-tracking the validation of claims to reimburse the COVID-19 tests the PRC did in support of the government’s campaign to curb the spread of the pandemic.
PhilHealth spokesman Rey Baleña said they have already paid PRC more than P700 million while noting that the agency cannot “shortcut” the validation of claims as this is “in compliance with accounting and audit rules.”
Baleña added that there are “some deficiencies” in the claims of PRC, prompting PhilHealth to return the documents for appropriate action.
Duque said during the IATF meeting that public awareness and observance of health protocols – including the wearing of masks, face shields, observing physical distancing and proper hand washing – helped in the decrease of COVID-19 infections.
“It seems the Filipinos are observing (the health regulations), Mr. President. Their compliance has improved. The data show that the rate of masking is good in the Philippines. The standards and advisories of the government are being followed by the people,” he added in Filipino.
The IATF and the National Task Force Against COVID-19 have intensified monitoring and the strict implementation of rules in various cities and provinces, especially in the National Capital Region, Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon.
During the meeting, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also reported that Cebu, Bacolod and Iloilo are now stable, with the government seeing a decline in the number of cases in these areas.
Bacolod and Iloilo are among the cities that remain under the general community quarantine (GCQ) status for this month. Cebu was also a cause of concern a few months ago but the situation has been stabilized following intervention from the NTF.
“Fortunately, Mr. President, the cases have decreased and their isolation capacities have improved,” Lorenzana said. – Christina Mendez, Sheila Crisostomo