Following President Rodrigo Duterte’s “mukhang pera” remark in his recent televised meeting with Cabinet members, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque told the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) to accept the president’s comment about their group.

“Let’s allow na lang the President to say what he wants to say. Let that remain on record. Bahala na po ang PRC to construe what the President said,” said Roque.

In response, PRC Chairman Senator Richard Gordon said: “Hindi kami mukhang pera. Ang sinasabi ko lang, dahan-dahan naman sa pananalita because nakakatulong naman kami. Hindi naman kami umutang, sila ang umutang. Sila ang nagpa-test, ginawa namin. ‘Di ba dapat bayaran ninyo?”

Still, Gordon said Duterte might have been referring, not to the PRC, but to unscrupulous entities that were overcharging after the organization had stopped its free testing.

“I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt, out of respect for the President,” the senator added.

So far, the PRC has provided more than a quarter of all COVID-19 swab tests done in the country.

The humanitarian group struck a deal with the government in which state insurer Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) would shoulder the cost of the COVID-19 tests done on OFWs, Filipinos arriving in airports and seaports, and public healthcare workers.

The debt of PhilHealth to the PRC, however, ballooned to P1.1. billion. At the time of writing, the embattled state insurer has paid P600 million of its initially P930 million debt to the PRC.

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