BRP Kalawang/ PhilHealth teka-teka

BRP Kalawang/ PhilHealth teka-teka

The recent attack of Chinese coast guard ships on a Philippine Navy supply boat has once again refreshed Filipino readers and news viewers of the sorry state of the BRP Sierra Madre that has been beached on Ayungin Shoal to serve as a territorial marker, naval surveillance station and home to a hardy bunch of sailor-soldiers manning a forsaken outpost.

Most people don’t think much of it, but our continued reliance on a rust bucket to represent Philippine interest and domain in the Ayungin Shoal is deplorable and an insult to ourselves. The BRP Sierra Madre should, like many ships, have been allowed to rest on the bottom of the ocean somewhere in the Philippine seas as a way of honoring the ship for its years of service. I am no Navy man so I don’t know exactly what the protocols are, but as practical as beaching the ship on the shoal may have been, it is also reminiscent of a former president who remained above ground, years after his death, because of politics. Ferdinand has long been buried but the poor BRP Sierra Madre is painfully being exposed to the elements.

Even worse is the fact that our government willfully assigned enlisted personnel to man a ship going nowhere and subject to the harsh elements. I have spent years working on islands in Palawan and I tell you it can be tough. The incessant rains during monsoon will make you feel like you’re shell shocked and the scorching heat will force you indoors barely able to work. The Navy personnel may be happy to follow orders and keep watch but they too are human beings and their lives should not be placed in grave danger.

If our national leaders and elected officials really give a damn about establishing our exclusive economic zone, is it too much to ask or suggest that we establish a facility in the area similar to what is on Pag-Asa island or similar to what China has done in the Spratlys? Given the advancements in technology, design and marine based construction, building such a facility is just a few notches more difficult than building a multimillion-peso resort like the ones that keep popping up all over Palawan and other parts of the Philippines. The fact that China was able to do it proves it can be done. If the Duterte administration is willing to spend hundreds of millions to create a fake white sand beach along Roxas Boulevard and all other Build, Build, Build projects, why not a naval facility on Ayungin Shoal that would properly and respectfully represent the sovereignty and domain of the Philippines!

I would even go a step further by inviting the United States, France, Germany and Australia to help develop the facility to serve as shelter, stop-over facility or, even better, as an observation deck or a marine science research institution. Beaching a naval ship may have seemed like a cheap solution and less intrusive to the shoals but a facility would be more useful and ultimately will help protect our sovereignty as well as the ecosystem in the area, especially from destructive poachers who use cyanide and practice indiscriminate fishing and gathering of marine resources.

Today they will say it’s a wild and expensive idea but I guarantee you, the minute a politician mouths it and a foreign entity steps up with funding or partnership, it will be “their” great idea. If Filipinos are busy building in the deserts of the Middle East and manning ships all over the world, Filipinos are very capable of building the Ayungin Maritime Research and Observation Facility!

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The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation or PhilHealth has been notorious for their delayed payments of claims from private hospitals. What I did not know was that PhilHealth apparently has the same bad reputation among government hospitals! I recently discovered how PhilHealth has implemented a funding program for public government hospitals that looks good on paper but is disastrous in real life.

They call it the DCPM or Debit-Credit-Payment Mode where PhilHealth releases money to government hospitals who in turn are supposed to work with hospital-based PhilHealth units which in turn are suppose to undertake the disbursement, monitoring and reconciliation of expenditures and then report back to the PhilHealth main office or regional office as the case may be. In other words, the PhilHealth “field office” settles the accounts and amounts and only then does PhilHealth release a fresh supply of cash to the hospitals concerned.

The presumption is that because there is a PhilHealth office “in-hospital” the process of monitoring and reconciliation would be up to speed with the hospital’s utilization of funds. This requires nothing more than a proper computer, an app for the purpose and an agreed procedure for reporting and reconciliation.

But NO, according to my sources, the DCPM results in serious delayed payments amounting to P300 to P400 million that seriously affects the services of any government hospital. It seems that the PhilHealth personnel have a different way of doing their monitoring and reporting that does not incorporate a sense of urgency that government hospital executives constantly live with.

Being the go-to health facility of ordinary Filipinos, government hospitals almost always find their funds on the low side or running out. The only reason the issue has not come up is because there has been a reduced volume in hospitalizations and demand for services due primarily to the fear of people about going to hospitals during the surge of COVID-19. But with the recent drop of alert levels and returning confidence in the safety of public hospitals, people have slowly returned to government hospitals and it won’t be long before these too start reaching out to the media regarding non-payment or delayed funding for government hospitals.

It is one thing for private hospitals to complain, but when government hospitals that serve the greater majority of the population air the same complaints, then we have a serious problem!

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