MANILA— Malacañang on Friday urged the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) to resume its tests for the novel coronavirus and stood by the payment of state medical insurer PhilHealth's P930-million debt on an installment basis, a set-up that the organization rejected.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier gave "his commitment" to settle the PhilHealth dues, said his spokesman Harry Roque.
Meanwhile, the justice department gave its legal opinion that PhilHealth "has to provide partial payment" while its agreement with the PRC is under review, he said.
"Having said this, we call on the PRC to resume its testing services," Roque said in a statement.
"We likewise ask the public, including our stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and overseas Filipinos (OFs), for their patience and understanding as we resolve this matter at the soonest possible time. In the meantime, we have already asked government and private laboratories to assist our OFWs and OFs in their RT-PCR testing," he added.
The Red Cross was responsible for about a quarter of the country's 4.1 million COVID-19 tests, including those of repatriated migrant workers.
The testing halt has slowed down the processing of repatriated Filipino migrant workers, who are required to secure a negative swab test before they are allowed to go to their hometowns. Some 6,000 OFWs are stuck in Metro Manila, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Tuesday.
The government will settle half of its debt "as soon as possible" and the rest within a "reasonable" time, Roque said this week.
But PRC chairman Sen. Richard Gordon said earlier Friday the government "should pay the whole amount" before his organization resumes testing.
The Red Cross is charging PhilHealth about P3,500 for every test. However, the PRC "is a beneficiary of both donated machines and donated testing kits, in addition to those they purchased using funds also from the government," Roque earlier said.
"PhilHealth should not pay the same grade for all PCR tests undertaken… There’s a price differential if the machine being used by the testing facility is donated and there’s also a price differential if the testing kits being used were donated," he said in a television interview.
"It’s really a matter of accounting reconciliation. It is not as simple as paying P3,500 for every test undertaken. We have to differentiate still between those tests conducted using machines and testing kits paid for by the Red Cross, and those using donated machines and testing kits," he added.
Reports of PhilHealth's debt surfaced as its officials battled allegations of corruption, which led to the resignation of its former CEO and president Ricardo Morales, who had signed the testing agreement with Red Cross.