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Migrants: Gamca clinics continue to exploit OFWs

November 21, 2008 2:49pm

Tags: Migrante
MANILA, Philippines - Filipino nurse Sitti thought that she had finally fulfilled her dream of working in Saudi Arabia after passing a hiring firm’s standards, only to be denied that opportunity by a failed medical test administered by an exclusive group of clinics.

Sitti is just one of the many Filipinos who wished to work in Saudi Arabia but were not allowed after failing to pass the exam administered by member clinics of the Gulf Cooperation Council-(GCC) Accredited Medical Clinics Association (Gamca).

Under Saudi hiring policies, foreign workers from the Philippines and other Asian countries are required to pass the medical tests conducted only by Gamca clinics that use the “referral decking system."

The “referral decking system" is a centralized medical referral decking system established in 2001 by GCC states — Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain supposedly to stop the proliferation of fake medical certificates and the transfer of communicable diseases from foreign workers to citizens of the GCC-member countries.

However, some migrant groups have scored the Gamca for operating like a cartel or “mafia," saying these clinics connive with each other to reap profit from charging exorbitant medical fees.

“The recruitment agency refers the aspiring OFW to Gamca, and Gamca in turn designates a member-clinic to conduct the medical checkup and formalities on an aspiring OFW only after the job seeker (has paid) hundreds of pesos for the ‘referral’ made by Gamca," said John Leonard Monterona, Migrante regional coordinator for the Middle East in a recent statement.

Monterona previously said that even those who are healthy would be surprised to find that their medical test results indicate that they have a spot on their lungs, or need to clean their teeth, or need to undergo electro-cardiograph (ECG) test.

In an e-mail sent to the Center for Migrant Advocacy, Sitti said that a Gamca clinic declared her “unfit" to be deployed because a scar was reportedly found on her lungs.

Being a nurse herself, she said that she got a second opinion from the Lung Center of the Philippines and found out from the results that the scar was inactive and was told that this wouldn’t be a hindrance to her work.

Binigyan po ako ng clearance ng Lung Center stating na I am fit to work (I was given a clearance by the Lung Center stating that I am fit to work)," she said in the e-mail.

After being declared “unfit" by the Gamca clinic, however, she went back to Mindanao, bothered by the thought that if she applied again, she would still be turned down.


Just one of thousands

Meanwhile, Jun Aguilar of the migrant group Global Filipino Nation said through e-mail exchanges with other groups that there are thousands more cases like that of Sitti.

Mayroon pang mas-malala pa kaysa sa kalagayan niya (There are even worse cases than hers)," he said.

He said that they oppose the Gamca because OFWs are the ones who suffer from these abuses.

I'm sure kung wala ang decking system na ‘yan, hindi nangyari kay Sitti ang ganyan… maraming kalokohan ang nangyayari sa medical testing clinics dahil sa cartel (I’m sure if there wasn’t a decking system, that wouldn’t happen to Sitti, many anomalies happen in medical testing clinics because of the cartel)," he said.

Aguilar said that there are so many applicants for overseas jobs who need to be tested everyday but there are only 17 of these accredited clinics in the country, all of which are based in Metro Manila.

“Imagine how many OFWs coming from Visayas and Mindanao are enduring the hardship of traveling to Manila just to take the medical tests," said Aguilar.

Joseph Henry Espiritu of OFW-SOS and Patnubay.com, a site for OFWs in Saudi Arabia, said that by monopolizing medical testing for the Middle East, the Gamca clinics were defeating the avowed purpose of their existence.

Kaya ‘yung accurate medical examination ay hindi pa rin ma-achieve dahil konti lang ang Gamca members at ang daming OFWs na magpacheckup (This is the reason why accurate medical examinations have not been achieved, because there are only a few Gamca members and so many OFWs who need to be checked)," he said.

Aguilar and Espiritu said jobseekers like Sitti are helpless because even the test results of the Lung Center, a highly advanced hospital run by the government, are not honored by the Gamca.

Ano ba ang meron sa mga clinic na ito na kahit mga sikat na clinics and hospitals sa atin ay hindi paniniwalaan ng GCC? Wala akong nakitang ibang motibo dito kundi pera-pera lang (What is with these Gamca clinics that only they are honored by the GCC, but not the most prestigious clinics and hospitals in the country. I don’t see any other motive here but the money)," said Espiritu.

Espiritu also said the supposedly tight screening by Gamca clinics in the Philippines was an unnecessary exercise since workers joining their employers for the first time are required to undergo medical examination in Saudi Arabia.

A bane to OFWs and manpower agencies alike

Recruitment agencies have recently urged Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to immediately shut down the Gamca-member clinics.

In a letter recently sent to Duque, the Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc. (Pasei) said that it is now time to fully enforce DOH Memo Circular 2120 issued last September 8, stopping or terminating the “referral decking system" practiced by Gamca-accredited clinics.

Pasei president Victor E. Fernandez Jr. said that the Bureau of Health Facilities should start inspecting Gamca clinics and issue “cease and desist" orders to those using the “decking system" despite issuance of the DOH circular.

Pasei said the continuing defiance of the DOH directive by Gamca is “a direct affront to Philippine sovereignty and national interest."

In 2001, the Philippine Department of Health issued Administrative Order No. 5 allowing the “referral decking system" with Gamca-accredited clinics as implementers.

Swamped by protests by manpower and some migrant advocacy groups, the DOH in 2002 issued Administrative Order No.106 holding in abeyance the implementation of Admin. No. 5. In August 2004, the DOH also issued Admin Order No. 159 continuing the suspension of the system.

And on August 30, 2004, the DOH issued Adm. Order No. 167 revoking Adm. No. 5, thus putting an end to the referral decking system.

In his September 26, 2008 memorandum, however, Duque noted that “this anomalous practice still exists and is being implemented by Gamca clinics.

Gamca has publicly stated that stopping the clinics in using the “referral decking system" will have serious repercussions on the deployment of OFWs to the Middle East especially Saudi Arabia, a top destination for Filipino workers.

But Fernandez said that the Middle East is not the only market for OFWs.

“There are now new and existing markets which offer better pay and employment benefits like Canada, Australia, Europe and Guam and it is the Middle East employers who will suffer since they are the ones who need our workers more this time with their huge construction projects," he said in a statement.

Moreover, he said that labor markets for local recruitment agencies have opened up in the last three years.

“The demand for skilled labor has outstripped the supply in the OFW market and agencies can barely fill-up the job orders as the lack of skilled manpower has not been addressed by the government with enough training centers and modules for various skilled positions," he said. - GMANews.TV
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Tags: Migrante