PUBLIC HEALTH, HINDI PRIVATE WEALTH! Filipino migrants protest against Phihealth corruption

To protest against Philhealth corruption, OFWs and representatives of Filipino migrant communities from different countries held an online protest on tuesday, 11 August 2020. Philhealth Chief Ret. Ricardo Morales drew harsh criticisms after revealing his planned medical leave of absence at a time when he and other officials are being summoned for congressional investigation. Malacañang stated that President Duterte continues to place his trust and confidence on Morales. Rights’ groups like Migrante International have been castigating the Duterte regime for its militarist cronyism that has bred corruption and other abuses. 

Filipino migrants have been among the most vocal critics following President Duterte’s signing of the ‘Universal Healthcare Law’ last year which dictates mandatory Philhealth membership and premium rate hike on overseas Filipinos. Perry Sorio of Migrante Canada said, “There is anger among our kababayans here in Canada since there is already an existing healthcare program being implemented in all of Canada’s provinces and territories. Migrants including OFWs are covered by Canada’s health insurance program.”

gor 11Aug photo

Nap Pempeña of Migrante USA hit irregularities in  Philhealth’s database. “The oldest living person in the world today is a 117 year-old Japanese citizen but according to  Philhealth, there are 5,000 Filipinos aged 130. These figures showcase their lies. This is how highly confident they are because they are protected by the system.” Pempeña likewise expounded on how the “rotten and privatized healthcare system” in the Philippines is linked to the Labour Export Programme (LEP) since both are Neoliberal policies which makes the government serve foreign capitalist interests. “Amidst the blatant corruption, critics of the Duterte regime are suppressed and silenced. Duterte treats his cronies as innocent until proven guilty while activists and ordinary citizens face shoot-to-kill orders.” Pempeña lamented.

The promotion by Morales of four Philhealth officials involved in the Php 154 Billion lost to ghost patients and deliveries fumed Marlon Lacsamana, secretary general of Migrante Europe. “Philhealth is slowly killing us by milking us with our hard-earned money, that is why we are fervent in our demand to oust Duterte and his military appointees,” Lacsamana said. 

Decrying the Philippines’ healthcare system, Josa, an OFW in UAE said, “with the current healthcare system, it is troublesome to get ill in the Philippines because healthcare is not a right but a commodity that gives profit. We are seeing the government’s real priorities because even at a time when many of our fellow Filipinos in the Philippines and abroad are losing their jobs due to the crisis, we were still struck with the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike. The Duterte regime is like pneumonia, it strikes when there’s least resistance because while the people are on lockdown, it enacted the Terror Bill while Filipinos are being robbed by plunderers.”

Sheila Tebia of Migrante Hong Kong riled against Philhealth’s planned purchase of a laptop worth Php 115 million as part of its Php 2.1 Billion IT project. “The overpricing anomaly was pointed out by no other than Philhealth board member Alejandro Cabading. Instead of adhering to the investigation, Morales even justified the insertion of the overpriced item. It is outrageous that the people’s money which should be spent for medical services are ending up in the personal pockets of corrupt officials.”

Tebia likewise cited former customs chief Nicanor Faeldon who was involved in the 2017 shabu shipment. “Duterte removed him from customs with feigned anger, only to reappoint him as chief of the Bureau of Corrections in 2018. He was removed again in 2019 but he was neither charged nor convicted. This is the same with Mocha, Pimental and Sinas. None of them were punished. This is Duterte’s mark. He pretends to hate corruption but he keeps on reappointing corrupt officials,” Tebia remarked. 

Raising the seafarers’ opposition against the mandatory Philhealth and premium rate hike, Fr. June Mark Yanez, IFI, a port chaplain of the Seamen’s Mission in Germany said that Philhealth is just another superfluous state exaction. Yanez said that maritime companies already provide medical or health insurance for seafarers. He cited the cases of two Filipino seafarers, one was hit by a train while the other one was amputated after an accident inside the ship. Medical expenses of both seafarers during their stay overseas and their continued treatment back in the Philippines were covered by their company’s insurance program. However, none of them received any assistance from Philhealth. 

Returned OFWs brought to different quarantine facilities in Manila also complained of the absence of health services. Marvin Rimas, a displaced OFW from Dubai said that stranded and distressed OFWs were neglected. He was stuck inside the quarantine facility along with other OFWs for an entire month waiting for delayed test results. Quarantined OFWs were left without psychosocial or medical services especially pregnant women, the elderly and OFW victims of abuse. “The mandatory Philhealth is a very heavy burden for us OFWs because it did not bring any benefit to us while we were abroad where the healthcare system works better. We prefer giving our money directly to our families instead of allowing it to end up in the hands of corrupt officials,” Rimas said.

Marc Rey de Jesus was an OFW for 10 years in Saudi but is now unable to go back to work due to travel restrictions. “There are many OFWs like me who have been stranded and are now unable to go back. We want to undergo medical examinations or health check-ups but we can’t afford the costs. We are out of work so where will get the money to pay for the cost of healthcare? What’s worse is that we are now hearing billions of pesos being lost to corruption instead of being used for medical services. We want these corrupt officials to be removed from office and face justice. It is our right to have a pro-people healthcare system that will really serve the interests of the Filipino people and not the interests of private corporations,” de Jesus exclaimed. 

Dr. Delen de la Paz of Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) attributed the terrible state of the country’s healthcare system to Neoliberal policies. “The government has already buried the country in debt in its claim to address the COVID-19 crisis but where is mass testing? Where is contact tracing? These things are supposed to be supervised by public health experts and medical professionals, not the military and the police. Are there quarantine centers being built where individuals are supposed to get regular health services especially OFWs who are waiting for test results? Why is the government’s handling of the crisis very inefficient? Because it is being supervised by people from the military. The government approach is very militaristic that is why we have been calling for a medical solution and not a military one,” Dr. de la Paz said.

Denouncing Duterte’s military cronyism, Migrante International Chairperson Joanna Concepcion said, “Just like Philhealth’s chief who is a retired military official, those appointed by President Duterte to lead in implementing the measures purported to address the biggest public health crisis are former military officials. This is why COVID-19 cases are rising and the crisis continues to exacerbate.”

Migrante International also demanded justice for slain Anakpawis chairperson Randall “Ka Randy” Echanis and for other victims of Fascist murders committed under the Duterte regime. It expressed condemnation against the Quezon City police for forcibly seizing the body of Echanis from his grieving family. OFWs and Filipino migrant leaders offered their one minute of silence for Ka Randy. The online protest ended with one last round of kalampagan against corruption in Philhealth and in the Duterte government.