MANILA (UPDATED) -- President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday he would "look for the money" to settle the government's debt to the Philippine Red Cross, which was forced to suspend coronavirus tests funded by medical state insurer PhilHealth.
"Ditong Red Cross, h'wag kang mag-alala, mabayaran ito. We're just looking for a way to present the solution to sa COA, pati sa (and also the budget) budget. Do not worry. We will pay. It will take time, but we'll pay. We'll look for the money," Duterte said in a public address.
"Hindi naman marami, but ang priorities natin dito is really medical--medical treatment, medical attention. Babayaran ito in a short while. Do not worry," he added.
(It is not much but our priorities here is really medical.)
PRC was responsible for about 1 million COVID-19 tests, or nearly a fourth of the country's total 3.8 million tests. The organization said it would no longer accept specimens for PhilHealth funded-tests
until the latter settles its P930 million debt.
Money "has always been a problem everywhere," said Duterte.
"Dumaan tayo sa malaking gastos and we are trying to make both ends meet. Parang lastiko, talagang binabanat natin nang husto iyong resources natin," he said.
(We went through huge expense... Like rubber, we are stretching our resources.)
Whistleblowers earlier accused PhilHealth officials of pocketing some P15 billion in state funds and approving allegedly overpriced projects and reimbursements to supposedly favored hospitals. At the height of the accusations, then PhilHealth chief Ricardo Morales resigned.
Morales had signed the memorandum of agreement for the PRC tests, National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr said a press briefing last Thursday.
Morales' successor Dante Gierran "just wanted to make sure all is in order" before settling the PRC dues and has asked for a comment from the budget department, Galvez said.
"‘Pag favorable po ang comment ng DBM, tuloy-tuloy na po iyon," he said in the same press briefing.
(If the DBM comment is favorable, that will go smoothly.)
"I am confident that the issue will be resolved immediately," he added.
The government has authorized around 147 laboratories to run coronavirus tests. In the meantime, other labs can take over PRC's load, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
The Philippines aims to test about 10 million people for the novel coronavirus that has placed the country in varying degrees of lockdowns for about half a year, left millions jobless, and dragged the economy into recession.