VOLUME 16 | NO. 25 | 15-DECEMBER-2008
DOH order revoking medical referral system for Mid East-bound OFWs ignored
THE COMMITTEE on Overseas Workers Affairs chaired by Representative Rex Gatchalian (1st District, Valenzuela City) found out that clinics accredited by the Gulf Cooperation Council to examine and issue medical clearances to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) departing for its member-states have continually disregarded the directive of the Department of Health (DOH) stopping the practice of the “referral decking system.”
The non-compliance by the clinics, the Committee also discovered, was compounded by the DOH’s weak enforcement of its own directives.
Government agencies and non-government organizations involved in the protection of the welfare of OFWs have been calling for an end to this practice saying that it is disadvantageous to the interests of the OFWs.
The centralized medical referral decking system was established in 2001 by the executive board of the health ministers council of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states composed of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to address the proliferation of fake medical certificates, do away with the rebates that affect the integrity of medical testing, and to protect citizens of these countries from being infected with communicable diseases that may be borne by GCC-bound OFWs.
The GCC-Approved Medical Clinics Association (GAMCA) was formed in the Philippines and made as the central referral office for the medical examination of Filipino applicants for employment in the GCC states. Under this system, Filipinos who are applying for overseas employment in the Gulf States shall undergo medical examinations in GAMCA-accredited clinics only.
DOH Memorandum No. 2008-0210 ordered clinics belonging to and identified with GAMCA to “forthwith stop, terminate, withdraw or otherwise end the insidious practice known as the referral decking system.”
This department order, signed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on September 26, 2008, reiterates the revocation of DOH-Administrative Order No. 5 series of 2001, which implements the referral decking system of the GAMCA.
As early as 2002, responding to the criticisms from several quarters against the referral decking system, the DOH has issued a number of department orders suspending or stopping this particular practice by the GAMCA.
“To this date, however, this anomalous practice still exists and is being implemented by the GAMCA clinics in contravention and in complete defiance of the earlier Administrative Orders issued by the Department, all to the detriment of the outgoing Filipino workers which government has sworn to uphold and protect,” the latest DOH memorandum stated.
It also stated that the GAMCA clinics which fail to abide by this DOH order shall be penalized with revocation or suspension of licenses or accreditation by the DOH and Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PHILHEALTH).
The continued defiance of the DOH order by the GAMCA clinics was highlighted during the final stages of the Committee’s inquiry relative to Resolution 79 filed by House Speaker Prospero Nograles (1st district, Davao City) and House Resolutions 395 and 402, respectively filed by Valenzuela City Reps. Rex Gatchalian and Magtanggol Gunigundo I.
The three resolutions all call for an investigation into the alleged collection of excessive amount of fees by government agencies, particularly the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) from departing OFWs.
During the Committee’s investigation, Rep. Maria Milagros Magsaysay (1st District, Zambales) was able to get an admission from GAMCA representatives that their clinics still implement the medical referral decking system despite the DOH’s order stopping it.
Dr. Pedro De Guzman of GAMCA also explained that the clinics continue to implement the system because they have a pending appeal with the Office of the President for the revocation of the DOH Order.
Lawyer Nicolas Lutero III of the DOH Bureau of Health Facilities confirmed the statement of De Guzman. He also revealed that Secretary Duque has “verbally instructed (him) to hold in abeyance the implementation of the DOH Order until the appeal is acted upon by the Office of the President.”
Having heard the comments made, the Committee Chair directed the Committee Secretariat to prepare a Committee Report on the three resolutions, and to include in the report the findings that the “referral decking system” is disadvantageous to the interests of the OFWs; that the GAMCA clinics continue to ignore the DOH order revoking the said system; and that the DOH itself is not enforcing its order based on a “verbal directive” from Secretary Duque.