MANILA — The Department of Justice (DOJ) is set to issue this week a legal opinion on the validity of the memorandum of agreement between state medical insurer PhilHealth and the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) over the conduct of COVID-19 tests.
“The DOJ is reviewing the MOA between the Philippine Red Cross and PhilHealth, and will render an opinion within the week,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told reporters in a message Thursday. “We’re giving this our preferential attention.”
PhilHealth and PRC entered into a multi-million peso agreement in May this year where the latter was to conduct a massive COVID-19 testing program charging PhilHealth P3,500 for each test.
PhilHealth has so far paid P1.6 billion for over 400,000 tests conducted, but has incurred at least P930 million in unpaid tests after newly-installed PhilHealth chief Dante Gierran ordered a review of its partnership with the non-government organization.
The PRC stopped accepting specimens starting October 16, including from the following:
- overseas Filipino workers
- those arriving in seaports and airports
- mega swabbing facilities through local governments
- others included in the expanded testing guidelines of the health department
This has led to the DOH resorting to looking for alternatives, with big laboratories taking on more COVID-19 testing. There's also a 3-4-day delay in the release of COVID-19 test results for OFWs. And some 6,000 OFWs in various quarantine facilities in Metro Manila, as of Thursday, have been unable to go home to their respective provinces as they await a negative swab test result.
President Rodrigo Duterte himself, in a televised speech Monday, vowed to pay PRC, but said “it will take time.”
“We will look for money,” he said.
PhilHealth has promised to settle the debt and assured PRC it has enough funds.
“"Ang isyu lang po dito, kailangan lang po makatiyak ni Atty. Gierran... na nasa ayos naman ang lahat bago kami tuluyang makapagbayad sa Red Cross," PhilHealth spokesperson Rey Baleña said.
Guevarra confirmed the DOJ review was requested by Gierran but was not part of the functions of Task Force PhilHealth, which looked into anomalies in PhilHealth, including the interim reimbursement program which advanced money to certain health facilities.
“The DOJ opinion was requested by PhilHealth before it makes a decision to pay its indebtedness to the Philippine Red Cross,” Guevarra said.
“It’s all about the validity of the MOA. More of civil liability.”
But the justice chief clarified he is not ruling out criminal liability.
“We are not ruling out anything until we have completed a thorough review of the subject MOA and laws applicable to the said deal,” he said.
Asked about the scope of the DOJ review, Guevarra said it will cover “the whole MOA, but more particularly on procurement issues.”
Some of the legal issues raised against the PhilHealth-PRC deal include the P100 million advance payment, which supposedly violated audit rules and the Universal Health Care Law, and the fact that the P3,500-fee is higher than the P3,409 highest COVID-19 test rate set by PhilHealth.
Some groups have also cited conflict on interest on the part of Sen. Richard Gordon, who chairs PRC and who also heads the Senate blue ribbon committee which investigated PhilHealth.
Gordon himself had previously called for an investigation of PhilHealth’s non-payment of debt to PRC.