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Medical clinics protest DOH policy

First Posted 23:47:00 10/26/2008

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MANILA -- Clinics conducting medical tests on overseas Filipino workers sent to the Middle East are protesting a Department of Health policy that vowed to put a stop to the ?referral or decking system.?

The GCC-Approved Medical Centers Association (GAMCA), whose 17 members are accredited by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to medically test job applicants, slammed an administrative order issued Sept. 26 by Health Secretary Francisco Duque that reiterated a previous order to stop the scheme.

The latest circular states that failure to abide by the order shall compel the DOH to revoke or suspend the license or accreditation of non-compliant clinics.

The system refers to the central referral office set up in 1999 for the medical examinations of Filipino applicants for employment in the GCC states, namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabi and the United Arab Emirates.

Applicants need to have their medical certificates stamped by the GAMCA clinic as requirement for the completion of their applications. The Gamca clinics process about 350,000 medical exams every year.

Dr. Pedrito de Guzman, GAMCA president told reporters that their group would exhaust all legal means to forestall any closures to their clinics. He assailed the order as having no legal or binding effect on the operations of GAMCA.

De Guzman said their lawyers earlier filed a motion for reconsideration with DOH, adding, ?The government, so with our local courts, cannot restrain the implementation of this system as this is a sovereign prerogative of the Gulf States and it would be interference in the exercise of sovereignty and independence of foreign states [if the scheme is scrapped].?

Recruitment consultant Emmanuel Geslani said the scrapping of the system could result in many OFWs unable to finish the processing of their employment in the Gulf region.

?The government has already breached the one-million mark of OFWS deployed abroad as of September this year and hopes to reach the 1.3 million mark by the end of the year. However, this new development in the processing of new hires will certainly affect the recruitment operations of the industry,? Geslani observed.

Geslani said deployment to Saudi Arabia, which has been the largest market for Filipino labor at 100,000 new hires each year, would be ?seriously dislocated? if GAMCA clinics were stopped by the government from operating.

?These are the only clinics recognized by the Saudi Embassy together with the GAMCA seal in processing visa applications to the kingdom. It?s the sovereign and diplomatic right of the Saudi Arabia and GCC states to protect their nationals from health hazards,? he said.

Migrant workers groups have opposed the system, saying the applicants, already being burdened by employment processing fees, would have to travel to Manila, where most clinics are located, just to undergo medical exams.

Some recruiters? organizations, on the other hand, claimed the GAMCA system has been a ?cartelization? while the Philippine Medical Association said that GAMCA, as a corporation and a juridical entity, was barred from practicing medicine.

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