MANILA, Philippines – Senior Citizens Representative Francisco Datol Jr wants House members and their staff prioritized for coronavirus testing, even as millions of ordinary Filipinos are unable to be accommodated by the Philippines' overwhelmed healthcare system.
Datol made the appeal during the hearing of the House Defeat COVID-19 committee's health and COVID-19 response cluster on Wednesday, May 20.
He said legislators should be prioritized for testing because they pay for their Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) coverage.
"Dapat po, mauna tayong ma-test, 'yung mga congressman, congresswoman, at mga empleyado ng Congress. Lahat naman po tayo nagbabayad ng PhilHealth," Datol said.
(We should be tested first, the congressmen, congresswomen, and the employees of Congress. All of us pay for our PhilHealth.)
But this does not make lawmakers any special, as any employed Filipino is required to pay for PhilHealth premiums, too.
The premiums of indirect contributors like indigent Filipinos, senior citizens, and persons with disabilities are also subsidized by the government under the Universal Health Care Act.
"Kasi nga po, 'pag pupunta tayo sa Kongreso ngayon, 'yun pong 25 [lawmakers] araw-araw na nasa plenary, hindi po natin alam kung mayroon na roon na mayroong COVID. Bakit po? Sapagkat ang nakikita ko po parang boxing po ito eh, na kalaban natin – tayo mga boksingero – ang kalaban natin hindi natin nakikita," Datol said.
(Whenever we go to Congress today, the 25 lawmakers who go to plenary every day, we don't know who among them already have COVID-19. Why? Because this is like boxing, where our opponent – we are the boxers – we cannot see our opponent.)
Moments before Datol's statement, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire explained it is "not cost-effective" to test those who are not exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms because the healthcare system is already overwhelmed.
Vergeire said this is why the government is currently prioritizing certain vulnerable sectors of society for testing.
On Wednesday, Datol also complained why House members aged 60 and above get salary deductions for their PhilHealth fees.
"Bakit lahat tayo, bata't matanda sa Kongreso, inaalisan ng P900 a month? Kaya nga po ang hiling ko sana, unahin na muna natin sana, kung 'yung testing na 'yan ay maaprubahan na, unahin na ang ating mga colleagues tsaka 'yung ating mga empleyado. Siguro po mga almost 5,000 tayo," Datol said.
(How come everyone in Congress, both the young and the old, get a salary deduction of P900 a month? That's why I hope, once the testing is approved, that our colleagues and employees be prioritized. Maybe we're around 5,000.)
Before he said this, the congressman suggested that the COVID-19 testing of senior citizens be included in the coverage of House Bill No. 6707, which seeks to prioritize the testing of those who are in the vulnerable sectors of society but who are not necessarily showing symptoms.
When sought to comment on Datol's suggestion, PhilHealth medical specialist for benefits development and research Marvin Galvez said they would cover the testing cost of senior citizens who are PhilHealth members.
"Kapag ang senior citizen ay kailangang mag-undergo ng testing, mayroon tayong benefit package dito.... Wala dapat babayaran dahil sabi nga P900 a month na kinakaltas sa inyo," Galvez said.
(When a senior citizen needs to undergo testing, we have a benefit package for that.... They wouldn't have to pay anything because, as you said, P900 is being deducted from your salary monthly.)
Galvez did not comment on Datol's push to prioritize lawmakers for COVID-19 testing.