Angered by President Duterte’s mere suspension of the mandatory Philhealth membership and premium rate hike, Filipino migrants from all over the world staged an online global protest on Tuesday, 12 May, to demand the elimination of what they call “unjust” and “extortionate” state exactions. Migrante International members from North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific likewise related the plight of OFWs and Filipino migrants hard hit by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and recession.
Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion slammed the Duterte administration’s “new scheme of legalized extortion” imposed on migrant workers. “We will not allow migrants to be robbed anew of their hard-earned salaries just to fund large-scale corruption in Philhealth. We will not forget the fake [ghost] patients, fake receipts, and the billions of funds lost to corruption,” Concepcion stated. She further argued that the pandemic has exposed the failure of neoliberal policies in addressing the enormous problems faced by the country’s healthcare system.
Marlon Gatdula of Migrante KSA reminded the Duterte administration that Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia already have existing health insurance provided to them by employers. Gatdula pointed out that when it comes to providing relief, Philippine government officials are not exerting concrete actions to aid OFWs who are under No-Work, No-Pay arrangements.
Europe being one of the most severely affected continents by the pandemic, Marlon Lacsamana of Migrante Europe raised its objection to the Duterte administration’s intent to overburden OFWs. “If the government is able to fund militarization in communities and in the countryside, that money should be taken back and be used for public health services for the people. The government is spending billions on debt servicing for owed money which has not contributed anything for the people’s welfare. That money should likewise be retrieved and be allocated to provide free services for Filipinos.” Lacsamana added that they are not just calling for the total scrapping of the mandatory Philhealth but for Duterte’s ouster.
Amidst the pandemic, many migrants are not only being afflicted by the Duterte government’s extortionist policies. Nap Pempeña of Migrante USA decried government negligence towards J1 visa holders victimized by recruitment agencies. He said that these young interns were promised professional training but actually ended up as replacements for the domestic workforce. Due to the closure of hotel and resort operations, thousands of young interns were laid off and are now without any income to support their basic needs. This is on top of the huge amounts of debt they incurred from the exorbitant fees charged by recruitment agencies. Pempeña deplored DFA’s failure to utilize the Php 1 Billion Assistance to Nationals fund to aid distressed J1 visa holders.
Speaking on behalf of seafarers, Atty. Edwin de la Cruz of the International Seafarers’ Action Center (ISAC) revealed that there are 150 thousand stranded seafarers whose manned ships are unable to dock in international ports choked by unclaimed cargoes. There are also 21 thousand stranded seafarers in Manila who are unable to return back to their respective provinces due to lockdown restrictions. “Access to health services is part of our basic rights but this is contradicted by the continuing privatization of healthcare in accordance with neoliberal policies. It is private hospitals that will really benefit the most from Philhealth funds and not public hospitals. Furthermore, seafarers are already being extorted to pay for mandatory SSS, OWWA, Philhealth and other exactions charged on them by the government and private manning agencies.” Atty. Edwin de la Cruz likewise reiterated that seafarers are already covered by healthcare programs and free hospitalizations offered to them by their employers, agencies and trade unions.
From the land down under, Mel Baltazar of Migrante Australia sounded the alarm against the forcible collection of Philhealth dues. “We were not even consulted and given information on what we Filipinos in Australia will get as benefits from the mandatory Philhealth. We are already covered by existing medical insurance programs in Australia. We do not need another one so the mandatory Philhealth membership will be useless.”
Under Duterte’s mandatory Philhealth, Baltazar cited that for newly arrived Filipinos earning 4,500 Australian dollars a month, they will end up getting charged by at least 1,620 Australian dollars a year which is equivalent to 56,700 pesos. “There are more than 300 thousand Filipinos in Australia so collecting Philhealth dues from 60,000 Filipinos alone would already allow the Duterte government to rake in 3 Trillion pesos worth of collections but how are we going to benefit from it? Scrap mandatory Philhealth! Scrap forever, hindi pay later,” Baltazar exclaimed.
Garnering 12 thousand online views, Migrante International extolled migrants, OFWs and Filipino community leaders who participated in the global online protest. Overseas Filipinos vowed to launch more actions to oppose the Duterte administration’s extortionist policies.