‘We merely stepped up’: Red Cross reminds gov’t of COVID-19 testing obligations, debt

MANILA — The Philippine Red Cross on Friday reminded the government on how it has helped in the country’s pandemic response through its massive COVID-19 testing campaign, hours after President Rodrigo Duterte asked state auditors to look into the organization. 

The non-government humanitarian organization recalled how the country’s COVID-19 testing was crippled last year after they halted it due to PhilHealth’s debt that reached P800 million. 

The PhilHealth and PRC entered into an agreement in May last year for the latter’s massive COVID-19 testing program, charging the government health insurer P3,500 for each test.

“When the PRC temporarily suspended the testing of patients who were supposed to be covered by PhilHealth when the state insurer had an outstanding balance of P800 million and had failed to make payment as promised, we were practicing fiscal responsibility,” PRC’s Board of Governors said in a statement. 

“To begin with, COVID-19 testing should be the job of government, we merely stepped up when there was a need that government could not address,” they added. 

The humanitarian organization said they “allowed their finances to bleed from operational expenses and supplies related to testing” because the government failed to settle its ballooning debt. 

“It was not long before the PRC was doing the bulk of the country’s testing, at its height covering 45 percent of the requirement, picking up the slack for the government,” the statement read, noting how they have conducted 4 million COVID-19 tests so far — the biggest in the country. 

The PRC statement also prefaced with how they are focused on alleviating human suffering amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and how they strive to provide crucial services to help those who are in need. 

This, the PRC said, allowed them to quickly establish a molecular laboratory meant for RT-PCR screening, something that they were not able to do before, they said. 

PRC’s response came after Duterte on Thursday night lashed out at the humanitarian organization and its chairman, Sen. Richard Gordon.

The chief executive alleged that Gordon, who is investigating his allies amid questionable procurement using billions worth of COVID-19 pandemic funds, is using the Red Cross as leverage for his political career. 

Duterte asked the Commission on Audit to look into the non-government organization’s transactions, even if it is not under the jurisdiction of state auditors. 

To date, the country’s COVID-19 testing remains limited, as earlier admitted by National Task Force Against COVID-19 deputy chief implementer Vince Dizon. 

In mid-August, the Philippines was conducting about 60,000 coronavirus tests per day, up from 50,000 in past months, he said. 

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