THE Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) recently entered into an Inter-Agency Agreement for the protection of Persons of Concern (POC), also referred to as refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons who are currently living in the Philippines.
As an institutional signatory, PhilHealth shall provide social health insurance protection to the POCs through existing, applicable membership and coverage mechanisms and requirements. Dr. Celestina Ma. Jude P. de la Serna, Interim/Officer-in-charge, President and Chief Executive Officer of PhilHealth, said “the POCs shall be enrolled in the National Health Insurance Program, either under the Sponsored Program or through the iGroup or group enrollment.”
According to Maria Ermina Gallardo, Assistant Protection Officer of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker is that asylum seekers’ applications for protection are still being processed while those of the refugees are already recognized by the government and they have the freedom of movement.” Stateless persons, on the other hand, are those not recognized as citizens by any country and are considered at-risk of statelessness with no citizenship due to certain intricacies of the national citizenship law, which some of them may therefore find themselves in legal limbo.
In accordance to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, the State has committed to primarily provide protection to the POCs. In order to comply with the mandate of the Conventions, the Department of Justice (DOJ) represented by Atty. Ruben Fondevilla, Assistant Chief State Counsel said that “the Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Unit (RSPPU) was created to process claims of people seeking assistance regarding their status and extending protection.” There are more than 500 POCs in the country today, he said.
As the lead agency, the DOJ’s main task is to provide protection over the plight of the POCs and shall provide protection documents such as certificates of pending application for asylum seekers, as well as Identification Cards for refugees and stateless persons.
On the other hand, the UNHCR which was created to protect and assist refugees and forcibly displaced people worldwide, is tasked to “assist and support the DOJ and the different agencies of government that will give assistance to the POCs. One aspect of that is medical and health services assistance, so the Department of Health and PhilHealth are on board in this project,” Gallardo said. She added that “if a foreigner is allowed to enroll in PhilHealth, then POCs shall also be given access to health services and are entitled to basic services.”
The State, through an Inter-Agency Steering Committee, shall ensure the provision of services to, and ensure that the POCs are properly protected and assisted in the Philippines through the institutionalization of policies that will improve their access to rights and services and create a more favorable protection environment for them.
The Inter-Agency Steering Committee for the Protection of Persons of Concern consists of the Bureau of Immigration (BI), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Departments of Education (DepEd), Foreign Affairs (DFA), Health (DOH), Interior and Local Government (DILG), Justice, Labor and Employment (DOLE), Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and Trade and Industry (DTI). Also on board are the Judiciary, Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), Professional Regulation Commission (PRC), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and PhilHealth.
The steering committee shall issue the corresponding implementing rules and regulations (IRR) to operationalize the agreement. (END) (Amelita L. Buted)
(Reference: Dr. Israel Francis A. Pargas, Head Executive Assistant and Concurrent OIC-Vice President for Corporate Affairs Group, Cel No. 0917-8089399)