Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque in a virtual press briefing on Monday announced that the collection of higher premium contribution of Overseas Filipino Workers is now on a voluntary basis.
“Habang meron tayong krisis, ang naging desisyon ng Presidente (ay) huwag na muna tayong magpataw ng karagdagang pahirap sa ating mga OFWs, lalong lalo na sa panahon na napakarami sa kanilang nare-repatriate at nawalan ng trabaho,” Roque said in a virtual press briefing.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s order came after the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation’s (PhilHealth) directive to increase the OFWs’ mandatory contribution to 3% of their monthly salary for 2020 drew criticisms.
PhilHealth Circular 2020-0014 which took effect last April 22 ordered OFWs whose monthly income range from P10,000 to P20,000 to pay 3% of it to their premium contributions, which was a raise from last year’s 2.75%.
An initial P2,400 payment is also required as part of PhilHealth’s transition period.
This is part of the provision of the Section 10.2.C of the implementing rules and regulations of the Republic Act 11223 or the Universal Health Care Act, signed into law in 2019.
Labor groups such as Migrante International and Kilusang Mayo Uno, as well as government officials Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.denounced the increase, mostly noting the financial struggles of OFWs in dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic.
In a tweet, Locsin argued that the contribution increase is unnecessary, citing the previous tax exemption law to OFWs in 2011, wherein the wage or income earned by Filipinos outside the country is no longer taxed.
“It is like an income tax which was abolished for OFWs and even their tax-free income filings were destroyed. They are just totally out of the purview of government exactions for which they will not benefit at all,” he said on Twitter.
Lawmakers such as House Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman (Basilan), Senators Sonny Angara and Bong Go also opposed the OFW’s premium contribution hike and called for its postponement.
“PHilhealth should consider postponing/cancelling any premium rate increase. Not the time when economies are down worldwide. Kontra pelo ito,” Angara said.
Hataman suggested that the government should grant overseas workers a “moratorium” on fees instead.
“Dapat nga, moratorium sa pagbabayad ang ginagawa ng gobyerno dahil sa krisis na dulot ng COVID-19 sa lahat ng tao saan mang bahagi ng mundo. Dapat ay tinutulungan natin ang mga OFWs at hindi pinahihirapan,” he said.
Duterte supporters turned complainants
Other Filipinos, meanwhile, noticed the quick turnaround of some OFWs, who were once vocal supporters of Duterte online.
Blogger M.A. Buendia expressed this view on Twitter.
“If you’re a DDS and you’re an OFW, don’t complain about the 3% mandatory Philhealth contribution. You were so aggressive in asking Filipinos to help and cooperate with the government, right? Ngayon, ito ang ambag niyo!” he said.
If you’re a DDS and you’re an OFW, don’t complain about the 3% mandatory Philhealth contribution. You were so aggressive in asking Filipinos to help and cooperate with the government, right? Ngayon, ito ang ambag niyo! 💁🏻♂️
— M.A. Buendía 💎 (@MABuendiaHD) May 3, 2020
One user shared a witty graphic and quipped: “You adore him but he end up betraying you.”
OFW DDs be like, you adore him but he end up betraying you 😂 pic.twitter.com/ri8pC9cHVH
— jade lynn (@Superjadelynn) May 3, 2020
OFWs’ online clamor
Meanwhile, OFWs also launched two online petitions via Change.org to call on the the state-run PhilHealth to reconsider repealing the additional payment required from overseas workers.
Both online petitions expressed the same statement against the PhilHealth memo.
“I believe that this is already too much of them to ask for an interest rate and a penalty which is very unfair and inhumane for those who travel away from their families to work. It is very unfortunate that they call OFWs modern heroes and yet they penalize us with such directives,” the statement read.
“We urge the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) to reverse this directive as this is unfair and an abuse to our migrant workers,” it added.
Why pass UHC in the first place?
Roque’s announcement on the suspension of higher premium contribution was perceived by some Filipinos as “good news” for the OFWs.
— #PunchTheLies🤛 (@PunchTheLies) May 4, 2020
However, some Filipinos are still seeking for the amendment of the PhilHealth memorandum, citing that Duterte’s order should be put on paper.
“Balik #voluntary status ang #Philhealth ng mga OFWs,we need it written in block & white, hindi press release lang,” a Twitter user said.
Filipino international educator Analiza Amurao said the executive Department and the Congress should review, revise and amend of the Philhealth circular.
“A presidential announcement does NOT change the situation as it is already a law. A Senate & Congress review & amendment is the constitutional & legal way of doing it since it was consolidated & passed by both chambers. #AmendTheCircular,” Amurao said.
Other Filipinos, on the other hand, questioned why Duterte signed the UHC’s provision in the first place.
“But it’s easy to say na hindi na mandatory ang pagbayad ng Philhealth premium but naisabatas na yan, ‘diba? Ano ba talagang plano niyo para sa mga OFW,” a Filipino asked.
A Twitter user Don Silvino said, Duterte should have vetoed the law instead.
“This Duterte admin is working on a policy of haste & incompetence. When people starts to complain, they’ll change gears. Atras, abante ang mga ungas! Laban – Bawi? Duterte already signed it into law and now they’re ordering people to violate it. Hindi nag-iisip,” he said.
“But it’s easy to say na hindi na mandatory ang pagbayad ng Philhealth premium but naisabatas na yan, diba? Ano ba talagang plano niyo para sa mga OFW?” another online user asked.
Part of the UHC Act
Duterte signed the UHC law in February 2019 to provide all Filipinos “equitable access to quality and affordable health care goods and services, and protected against financial risk.”
Duque also signed the measure’s implementing rules and regulations in October of that year.
The UHC Act guarantees that all Filipinos are automatically members of PhilHealth and entitled to free medical services delivered either as “population-based” or “individual-based” health services.
Direct contributors to the state-run corporation, however, are required to make additional fees to avail of these benefits.
As stated in Section 4 of the law, migrant workers are among PhilHealth’s direct contributors.
“Direct contributors refer to those who have the capacity to pay premiums, are gainfully employed and are bound by an employer-employee relationship, or are self-earning, professional practitioners, migrant workers, including their qualified dependents, and lifetime members.”
The premium contributions for direct contributors are specifically stated in Section 10, which was also reiterated in the recent circular.
The provision on the direct contributors was also mentioned again in the new document.
“The overseas Filipinos are classified as direct contributors under the UHC law and therefore, payment and remittance of premium contributions is mandatory.”
What PhilHealth and Duque said
Earlier, PhilHealth Vice President for Corporate Affairs and spokesperson Shirley Domingo said that it is up to the Congress to review the premium hike, which was mandated by the UHC law.
“We understand the sentiments of our OFWs. The 3% increase is in compliance with the UHC Act. PhilHealth has found ways to cushion the impact of the increase which is embodied in the recently published circular,” Domingo told GMA News.
Duque, meanwhile, also called for the suspension of the IRR of the UHC law, citing considerations on the economic impact of COVID-19.
I call for the suspension of Section 10.2.C of the IRR of the UHC Law in light of COVID-19 and its economic impact on OFWs. We will recommend this to Philhealth for their action. Meanwhile, we will reach out again to our stakeholders on this. pic.twitter.com/VudhaLlPCI
— Francisco T. Duque III (@SecDuque) May 4, 2020