Bringing change to the country is a monumental challenge that President Rodrigo Duterte ALONE cannot accomplish. This is the reason why it is vitally important that the people he has appointed to his cabinet be able and willing to help him fulfill his campaign promises. Of course, it need not be said that those he appointed should avoid causing him any more problems than there already are.
The confirmation of Health Secretary Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial appointment may hit a snag after failing to stop foreign owned consulting company Winston Q8 from cornering and collecting exorbitant medical testing fees from all Kuwait bound OFWs — a violation of section 6 (c4) of Migrant Workers Act (Republic Act 8042 as amended by Republic Act 10022).
ACTS OFW Party List Representative John Bertiz voiced his opposition to Ubial’s confirmation and submitted a complaint to the Chairman of the Commission on Appointments, Senator Koko Pimentel.
Bertiz says, “The DOH Secretary has proven to be either powerless or unwilling to implement our laws and its own Rules and Regulations. She has failed to enforce the law, has failed to fulfill her duties to investigate and file charges against Winston Q8 and its accredited clinics despite mounting evidence that the clinics are violating Memorandum Circular 2016-0627. Finally, the Secretary has not initiated any investigation within the DOH on how this illegal scheme was allowed in the first place.”
Health Secretary Ubial is a career official who was previously Assistant Secretary and then Undersecretary during the Aquino Administration. Bertiz notes that it was during Ubial’s time as Undersecretary that cartels preying on OFWs experienced a ten fold resurgence.
The task for the enforcement of theMigrant Workers Act law falls on the Department of Health. Section 16 of the same law mandates the DOH to ensure the following:
- Section 16 (c.2) The Filipino migrant worker shall only be required to undergo health examinations when there is reasonable certainty that he or she will be hired and deployed to the job site and only those health examinations which are absolutely necessary for the type of job applied for or those specifically required by the foreign employer shall be conducted
- Section 16 (c.3) No group or groups of medical clinics shall have a monopoly of exclusively conducting health examinations on migrant workers for certain receiving countries
- Section 16 (c.4) Every Filipino migrant worker shall have the freedom to choose any of the DOH-accredited or DOH-operated clinics that will conduct his/her health examinations and that his or her rights as a patient are respected. The decking practice, which requires an overseas Filipino worker to go first to an office for registration and then farmed out to a medical clinic located elsewhere, shall not be allowed
It was in August 2016 when Winston Q8, a foreign-owned company registered in the Philippines, announced that all medical testing of OFWs bound to Kuwait will have to pass through them by virtue of an agreement with the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health.
Bertiz says that Winston Q8 monopolized all medical testing through eight (8) accredited clinics. Because of this, Winston Q8 was able to increase medical testing to P8,400-P9,600, which is four times the DOH-prescribed range of P2,000-P2,200.
Moreover, on top of the increased cost of medical testing, Kuwait bound OFWs now had to spend even more money to travel to and stay in Manila where all of Winston Q8’s accredited clinics are located.
Bertiz claims that what Winston Q8 was doing violated Section 6 (c4) of Migrant Workers Act (Republic Act 8042 as amended by Republic Act 10022) which deems it unlawful to ‘(i)mpose a compulsory and exclusive arrangement whereby an overseas Filipino worker is required to undergo health examinations only from specifically designated medical clinics, institutions, entities or persons, except in the case of a seafarer whose medical examination cost is shouldered by the principal/shipowner’.
Being the only House Representative for Overseas Filipino Workers, Bertiz had raised this issue with Health Secretary Ubial as early as August 2016. It was discussed during the hearings for the budget of the DOH, briefings in the House of Representatives, and even in his personal interactions with the Secretary.
In September 2016, it seemed that Health Secretary Ubial heeded Bertiz’ pleas on behalf of his 9 million OFW constituents with the issuance of Department Circular no. 2016-0267 signed by DOH Asistant Secretary Agnette Peralta.
The DOH circular contained the following orders:
1.0 The implementation of the I-Clinicalab System is hereby suspended effective immediately while the Department through the Health Facilities and Services Regulatory Bureau studies other options to address the tagging fee and privacy issues raised by the medical clinics.
2.0 All MFOWS are also prohibited effective immediately from collecting the additional medical certification and visa accreditation fees on behalf of Winston Q8 Certification Solutions Inc. and other similar parties. Reference is made to the recently revised Annex “K” of Administrative Order 2013-0006 prescribing the price of the mandatory basic DOH Pre Employment Medical Examination package which is only within the range of two thousand (2,000) pesos to two thousand two hundred (2,200) pesos, in Philippine currency.
3.0 All MFOWS shall not act as a collecting agent for fees other than the PEME, other medical tests and vaccinations done and shall not be allowed to participate in activities that shall involve the medical certification processes for visa purposes or the like since the same is in violation of RA 10022 and its implementing rules and regulations.
However, Bertiz says that in a recent meeting with Health Assistant Secretary Peralta, it was admitted that the DOH hadn’t enforced its own circular because it was still in the process of gathering evidence about SIX MONTHS after the violation was brought to their attention.
For the good of our OFWs, I hope that Health Secretary Ubial speeds up her department’s evidence gathering process against Winston Q8. For every month that it continues to corner and collect medical testing fees, thousands upon thousands of Kuwait bound OFWs are forced to shell out four times what they should pay for medical testing.
By some estimations, Winston Q8 may be illegally raking in P100 million a month or nearly P700 million pesos over the past 7 months since August last year.