Red Cross suspension of COVID-19 testing slows down efforts to stem pandemic, says Recto

Published October 22, 2020, 4:56 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

The Philippine Red Cross’ (PRC) suspension of government-funded COVID-19 testing could “distort” the country’s efforts against the pandemic, Senator Ralph Recto warned Thursday.

In his statement, the Senate President Pro Tempore underscored the role of the PRC in the government’s testing capacity and in its reporting of COVID-19 situation in the Philippines.

Senate Ralph Recto (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

“The temporary absence of Red Cross testing distorts the national COVID picture. One in four RT-PCR tests is done by the [PRC],” Recto said.

“The absence of [PRC] deflates the infection rate, making any dip in the reported number of verified cases an artificial decline,” he said.

Recto said the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth)  should have been proactive in paying the PRC for its services to the government, especially the testing of arriving and repatriated overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

“It should always bear in mind that its role is to keep the frontlines supplied, for that is how the war is won,” he said.

“If PRC stops testing arriving OFWs, our first line of defense against imported cases is abandoned,” he pointed out.

The PRC last October 14 stopped conducting COVID-19 tests for the government due to the PhilHealth’s failure to settle its outstanding debts amounting to at least P930 million. President Duterte has assured that the government will pay its debt to the PRC, but “it will take time”.

The PhilHealth explained that it was waiting for the Department of Budget and Management’s (DBM) opinion on the legal issues about its agreement with the PRC.

Recto, however, said the case of the PRC was “just a recent example of how slow and low disbursement and procurement have snagged government efforts to save lives and livelihood during this pandemic.”

“We can only flatten the curve if we first straighten the zigzags in the release of funds and the procurement of goods for which these are intended…We cannot defeat the virus through trickle-down spending, where red tape leads to the slow drip of assistance to the people below,” he said.

“The fight against the pandemic has no room for logistical timeouts which lead to costly delays and preventable deaths.”

Senators had questioned the DBM’s delay in releasing the funds allocated for COVID-19 response and recovery programs under the Bayanihan 2 Act.