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DoH-accredited clinics want OFW law enforced

Some embassies in the country have reportedly refused to honor medical tests conducted on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) by the majority of government-accredited clinics nationwide in violation of Republic Act No. 10022, or the amended Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995.

As a result, a small group of private clinics accredited by the missions has been able to monopolize this service, “exclusively conducting medical examinations on OFWs for certain receiving countries” mostly in the Middle East, according to the Department of Health (DoH).

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To correct what it considered to be an irregularity, the DoH has asked the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to intercede in behalf of 184 state-accredited clinics.

“We are requesting your kind intercession that foreign embassies here in the Philippines would accept and honor the medical certificates duly issued by DoH-accredited clinics for overseas workers even if the issuing clinics are not accredited by these embassies,” said Nicolas Lutero III, director of the Bureau of Health Facilities and Services under the DoH, in a June 10 letter to Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.

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Memo circular

Lutero cited a May 2011 memorandum circular of the DoH which called for the implementation of RA 10022, “particularly the provisions … prohibiting the monopoly of a certain group of medical clinics exclusively conducting medical examinations on OFWs.”

The law emphasizes the “right of OFWs to go to any DoH-accredited medical clinics of their own choice for their medical examinations,” the official noted.

It also prohibits the so-called “decking or referral practice” of clinics belonging to the 17-member Gulf Cooperation Countries-Approved Medical Centers Association (Gamca).

Decking refers to the system in which OFWs are required to “first go to a certain office and (are) then farmed out to a medical clinic” that is a member of Gamca.

Gamca has allegedly cornered the business of conducting medical tests on OFWs bound for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries hosting OFWs.

Not a cartel

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Reached for comment on Friday, Dr. Rodolfo Punzalan, Gamca president and owner of the Angelina Apostol-Punzalan Medical Clinic in Makati City, maintained that “we’re not running a cartel.”

“It so happened that Gamca-member clinics here were the only ones which passed the high standards and were eventually accredited by the Health Ministers Council of the Gulf countries. In Gamca clinics, all laboratory equipment are automated and computerized while X-ray machines are already digital and filmless,” said Punzalan, a former Parañaque City councilor.

“And Gamca is not our creation. The health ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCCs) came up with Gamca, which by the way, is not exclusive to the Philippines. There are other Gamcas in several other countries deploying manpower to the Middle East, like Pakistan, India, Malaysia and Indonesia, among others,” he explained.

He insisted “the Gulf countries have the sovereign right to be strict in the accreditation of medical clinics conducting medical examinations of OFWs. Other countries do the same, like the US which only honors medical tests conducted by St. Luke’s Hospital. Taiwan accredits only eight clinics while Brunei deals with only seven or eight.”

Punzalan also said Gamca “no longer practices decking as per DoH directive.”

Gamca goes to court

Early this year, Gamca went to the Pasay City Regional Trial Court Branch 110 in a bid to stop the DoH from fully implementing RA 10022.

The group argued that its implementation of the decking system “is a sovereign and diplomatic right of the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCCs) to protect their nationals from health hazards.”

“Therefore, the GCCs—through Gamca—cannot be enjoined from implementing the said system, as the judiciary or even the Philippine government cannot dictate to foreign states the manner with (which) they are to regulate and screen entrants to their territories,” the group said.

Sought for comment on the DoH letter, Foreign Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Esteban Conejos Jr. said “we cannot compel (the 60-plus foreign embassies) to observe our domestic laws… We cannot impose on them our domestic laws.”

“What we can do is try to make them understand the rationale of (RA 10022). We hope to come up with a win-win solution. We’re arranging a meeting between representatives of the embassies and officials of our Department of Health, as well as the medical clinics,” Conejos told the Inquirer.

Level playing field</strong.

In a June 16 letter, the 86-member Association of Medical Clinics for Overseas Workers (Amcow) urged the DFA to “help level the playing field” and do its part in the “full implementation of RA 10022.”

The Amcow president, Dr. Rolando Villote, said “the timely issuance of the law clearly prohibits monopoly and restrictions on the freedom of overseas workers to choose their own DOH-accredited medical clinics.”

Another Amcow official expressed disappointment with Ricardo Endaya, executive director of the DFA’s office for migrant workers’ affairs, for supposedly saying that the department could not intercede with the embassies on Amcow’s behalf.

“Director Endaya kept on reminding us he was the country’s former ambassador to Kuwait,” said Dr. Edward Sare, recalling a meeting he said the group had with Endaya on July 25.

Sare also quoted Endaya as having suggested that it would be “better to treat embassy officials out” to get their respective government’s accreditation, and that “if the accreditation fee requirement is P2 million, then haggle (and) ask them to lower it to P500,000.”

When told that Amcow planned the raise the issue with some senators and Vice President Jejomar Binay, a presidential adviser on OFW concerns, Endaya allegedly told the group, “wag n’yo na palakihin ’yan (“Don’t make a big issue out of it).”

Claims disputed

Contacted by phone, Endaya disputed the Amcow officials’ claims.

“Actually, I was very courteous to them. I was also sympathetic to their concerns. I told them that we’re willing to host a meeting with representatives of the foreign embassies. That is, if the Saudi embassy and the other embassies would agree to such a meeting,” Endaya said.

But the diplomat said “there are some realities in the foreign service, like we can’t dictate or impose our laws on foreign governments. And we can’t blame those countries for being very strict with employment procedures covering foreign workers, including (Filipinos).”

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TAGS: Association of Medical Clinics for Overseas Workers (Amcow), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Health (DoH), government-accredited clinics, Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCCs), Medical tests, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), Republic Act No. 10022, the amended Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995
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