Red Cross eyes legal action as PhilHealth debt remains unpaid

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 27)— The Philippine Red Cross on Tuesday warned of possible legal action should the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation still refuse to settle its debt to the organization.

Ayaw nila magbayad? Then we stop the testing. Hindi kami nagba-blackmail. We’ll just have to go to take our legal courses of action,” Red Cross chairman and Senator Richard Gordon told CNN Philippines’ The Source, but noted that he does not want to resort to such move.

[Translation: They don’t want to pay? Then we stop the testing. We’re not blackmailing. We’ll just have to go to take our legal courses of action.]

Gordon on Monday revealed that the PRC has yet to receive the expected settlement from the state health insurer, despite “numerous announcements that they will pay.”

PhilHealth owes the humanitarian organization over ₱1 billion, of which nearly ₱931 million is marked as overdue balance. This has forced Red Cross to stop conducting coronavirus tests charged to the agency— a development which has severely affected the testing operations for returning overseas Filipino workers.

RELATED: 6,000 OFWs stranded in hotels due to COVID-19 test delays

Malacanang earlier said PhilHealth woud pay half of the overdue amount by this week at the latest and hoped that PRC would then resume its COVID-19 testing operations.

"Gumagawa tayo ng hakbang para tuluyan nating maasistehan ang ating mga kababayan, wala po iyang mga pananakot," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in his Tuesday briefing, adding that the government has about 150 other testing centers that it can tap for tests.

"Sa akin po, kung talagang hindi natin mapipilit ang PRC na bumalik maski ang offer po ngayon ay 50% na babayaran, eh wala po tayong magagawa," he added.

[Translation: We are looking for ways to fully assist returning Filipinos, we will not succumb to threats. In my view, if we cannot force PRC to resume testing despite our offer to pay 50% of our debts, we can't do anything about it.]

Roque added that the government is in talks with private testing centers, which he claimed to be racing for the prime spot of offering tests inside airports –– an operation previously exclusive to the Red Cross.

Gordon, however, has insisted on full payment to cover the costs of test kit purchases and salaries of the medical workers.

Gordon slammed PhilHealth for its continued broken promises, saying the agency is putting the whole country in harm’s way by refusing to settle the dues.

He also shot down claims of Red Cross’ supposed “blackmailing” against the government, saying the organization is the one at a disadvantage.

Hindi naman kami ang may utang, sila eh… DOJ (Department of Justice) na nagsabi, DBM (Department of Budget and Management) na nagsabi. Presidente na nagsabing bayaran. Bakit ayaw nila magbayad? Ayaw lang talaga nilang magbayad,” Gordon said.

[Translation: We’re not the ones at debt, they are. DOJ, DMB, even the President said they should pay. Why are they not paying? They just don’t want to pay.]

Kami na talaga ang naba-blackmail. Ipapadala ang test dahil kailangan gawin, duty namin sa tao na kung makakayanan namin, itetest namin. Duty naman ng PhilHealth na bayaran kami,” he added.

[Translation: We are the ones being blackmailed. They send us those that need to be tested, it is our duty to the public to test if we can. But then, it is Philhealth's duty to pay us.]

Aside from delays in OFW testing, Gordon likewise noted that PhilHealth's non-payment may force PRC to cancel its chartered flight to China for the procurement of test kits. The lack of funds also threatens the operations of Red Cross-run laboratories in various provinces, he added.