NGO warns DOH-accredited clinics, recruitment agencies vs online medical registration scheme victimizing OFWs

File photo of Overseas Filipino Workers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Photo by Bernard Testa, InterAksyon.

MANILA – A non-government organization that specializes in labor migration warned medical clinics and recruitment agencies catering to OFWs not to fall for a dubious scheme hatched allegedly by the GCC Ministry of Health, which imposes a $10-fee online registration fee for every Middle East-bound OFW applicant.

“This online registration scheme appears to be a multi-million peso scam targeting our OFWs. No one in the Philippines was consulted and we also don’t know who will benefit from these new fees being collected and arbitrarily imposed on our OFWs,” Susan Ople, head of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center said. The website can be found via:

Ople estimates that the online medical registration scheme would earn the GCC Ministry of Health at least P222 million per year. The Philippines deployed 333,671 newly-hired workers to GCC member-countries in 2015 based on POEA data.

“This online registration scheme has all the makings of a scam and is being perpetrated by foreigners allegedly representing Gulf countries. We urge the DFA and DoLE to investigate this scam and for the DOH to stand pat on its position to prohibit clinics from participating in this highly suspicious online registration system,” the Ople Center said.

The Blas F. Ople Policy Center noted that OFW applicants bound for the Middle East are now being required to pay an additional S10 registration fee online for the provision of Pre-Employment Medial Examination (PEME). The new requirement allegedly came from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Ministry of Health and was said to have the imprimatur of the Philippines’ Department of Health.

The Department of Health, however, denied that it approved the new scheme based on Department Circular No. 0371 issued on December 22 that states:

“Since the said online registration system charges additional fee to the OFW applicants and can be restrictive to few selected DoH-accredited OFW clinics, it may be construed as another form of decking and monopoly of health examination services for Filipino migrant workers. Thus, DOH prohibits the Medical Facilities for Overseas Workers and Seafarers (MFOWS) from participating or using the said online scheme.”

The memorandum circular signed by Undersecretary Rolando Enrique Domingo also advised the public and DOH-accredited clinics for OFWs to report to the department any activities pertaining to the said online registration system.

Ople also noted that the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has yet to pass any Governing Board resolution in recognition of the said scheme.

She also urged the Department of Foreign Affairs to check on whether Gulf countries that receive overseas Filipino workers have authorized the GCC Ministry of Health to collect money in their behalf.

“We are counting on the government to put a stop to all these nefarious online registration schemes aimed at earning money from our OFWs. It violates our laws and also creates grave security problems considering the data being harvested and the huge amounts of money being collected,” Ople said.

Meanwhile, ACTS OFW party-list Representative Aniceto Bertiz III has filed a House resolution seeking an investigation into the online registration scheme of the GCC Ministry of Health.

The lone representative of OFWs in Congress described the online medical registration scheme as an affront to national sovereignty and imbued with national security risks.

“Last year, a similar online registration system was put up by a Kuwait-owned company known as Winston Q8 with an office located at Bonifacio Global City. It collected millions of dollars from Kuwait-bound OFWs by forcing them to register online for an additional fee of more than P5,000 per applicant,” recalled Bertiz.

It turned out, however, “that Winston Q8 had links with ISIS and one of its managers was wanted around the world for acts of terrorism. This is why it is important to investigate this latest scheme because it could be another Winston Q8,” Bertiz said.

The GCC Ministry of Health website quoted as its mission: “The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States have launched this program to do Pre-departure Medical Examination of expatriates at their home countries to assess their health fitness and assure that they are free from infectious and other diseases in order to protect GCC nationals from different health hazards.”

Bertiz pointed out that there are sufficient safeguards imposed by the Department of Health to ensure that all accredited clinics abide by the government’s regulations and standards.

“This is a money-making venture because all it does is to collect $10 from each OFW bound for the Middle East and control which clinics these OFWs should patronize,” the congressman said.