OFWs stranded by clinics’ suspension

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Thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), especially those bound for Kuwait, could not leave the country because of a suspension order issued by the Department of Health (DOH) against some medical clinics.

The preventive suspension order against Ruben Bartolome MD Clinic Inc., Abakkus Medical Diagnostic Services, Orion Medical and Diagnostic Center and San Marcelino Medical Clinic Co. took effect last March 9

Immediately, the medical clinics filed a 30-page petition for certiorari with prayer for temporary restraining order, asking the Court of Appeals to set aside the preventive suspension order signed by Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, Undersecretary Mario Villaverde and Assistant Secretary Agnette Peralta, telling the clinics to cease and desist from operating their business indefinitely.

With the suspension order, thousands of OFWs bound for Kuwait and other countries could not undergo the required medical examination, according to Edward Martinez, lawyer for the medical clinics.

Martinez said the order was made arbitrarily “in blatant and deliberate disregard of existing laws, rules and regulations, and even the DOH’s own rules of procedure and in violation of petitioners’ right to due process.”

The suspension order was not based on a formal complaint as required by law but on two resolutions filed in the House of Representatives calling for an inquiry in aid of legislation into operations of the medical clinics.

The resolutions accused the four medical clinics of conspiring with Mawared Services and Winston Q8 Certifications Solutions Inc. of allegedly creating a monopoly in providing medical services for all migrant workers bound for Kuwait in violation of Republic Act 10022 (Migrant Workers’ Act).

Martinez admitted that his clients were listed as the accredited clinics of Winston Q8, which represents the Ministry of Health of Kuwait in the Philippines.

“Respondent issued the said orders even without a formal complaint or charge filed before the Bureau of Health and Facilities Services (BHFS) or the DOH, as required under Administrative Order No. 2013-0006. No hearing or investigation was likewise conducted prior to the issuance of the said orders. More important, the said orders were made effective immediately upon issuance thereof and for an indefinite period of time. Thus, essentially, respondents have summarily and arbitrarily shut down the medical clinics of the petitioners without due process of law, in violation of their fundamental rights under the Constitution,” the lawyer said.

With the suspension order, the owners and employees of the medical clinics supposedly continue to suffer irreparable damage.

On allegations that they have created a monopoly, Martinez vehemently denied it, saying they are not the only medical clinics that can provide medical services for the OFWs bound for Kuwait.

The four medical clinics’ authority to operate as medical clinics was given not by Winston Q8 but by the DOH itself.

“The Kuwaiti Ministry of Health, through Winston Q8, continuously confirms the eligibility of Philippine DOH-accredited medical clinics, and thereby extends its invitation to all other DOH-accredited medical clinics to submit themselves for confirmation of eligibility and compliance with the standards of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health,” Martinez said.

“Certainly, the Philippines’ DOH, cannot impose its own health standards on those of other countries, including Kuwait. Doing so is equivalent to interfering with the other countries’ right to protect and preserve the health of their own people, and in the process, to set their own standards in allowing or not the migrant workers to enter their territories based on health reasons,” he added.

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