THE Red Cross (RC) is a humanitarian organization, and never has it been associated with profit. If we go by the International Red Cross (IRC) and Red Crescent Movement (RCM), it is an "international humanitarian movement with approximately 97 million volunteers, members and staff worldwide. It was founded to protect human life and health, to ensure respect for all human beings, and to prevent and alleviate human suffering."
This article was originally published in The Manila Times on September 7, 2021
There are three distinct organizations that are legally independent from each other but united within the movement. These are the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies that exist in nearly every country in the world.
The ICRC declared on March 26, 2020, "the coronavirus pandemic disease is unprecedented in recent history and is spreading rapidly. It is not only a public health crisis, but also a humanitarian crisis in the making." The ICRC also stated that it needs to scale up operational response and that the humanitarian aid it provides on the frontlines is essential to saving lives during the crisis.
Clearly, the RC has been an endearing brand. Its official birth in the Philippines was 1947, but its origins date back earlier to Feb. 17, 1899 through the initiative of Apolinario Mabini when the Malolos Republic approved the Constitution of the National Association of the Red Cross. Mrs. Hilaria del Rosario de Aguinaldo was appointed president of the association. From that time on, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) has evolved to become the "premier humanitarian organization in the country, committed to provide quality lifesaving services that protect the life and dignity especially of indigent Filipinos in vulnerable situations."
At present, the PRC provides six major services: blood services, disaster management services, safety services, health services, social services, Red Cross Youth and Volunteer Services. The PRC supposedly embodies the "fundamental principles of the IRC and RCM - humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality."
PRC came into the picture with the services it offered to complement the national government via a memorandum of agreement on the services it can offer for a fee. Pay us became the dictum of PRC or they cancel the services it has been offering to the public. If you look at the price margins, it was not a break-even proposition. It would appear that PRC needed to earn from the calamity and that quickly eroded its brand with the public. The talk among government leaders is that the PRC is raking it in with the Covid testing program it has undertaken for the government. It was not a fund assistance but a transaction, if we are to base it on the memorandum of agreement between PRC and Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth). The two entered into a multi-million-peso agreement in May 2020 where PRC was to conduct a massive Covid-19 testing program charging PhilHealth P3,500 for each test, which is higher than the P3,409 rate set by PhilHealth. On Oct. 15, 2020, the PRC announced it would no longer conduct Covid-19 tests chargeable to PhilHealth because the total unpaid tests had ballooned to P930 million. This was later paid by PhilHealth.
And then almost everyone was saying that the PRC can do what it chooses since it is a private organization. aPeople forgot about Republic Act (RA) 10072, or the "Philippine Red Cross Act of 2009," signed into law under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The law provided seven purposes and Congress granted various privileges for the PRC, such as to own and hold real and personal properties, exemption from payment of all direct and indirect taxes, exemption from the payment of real property taxes on all real properties owned by it and be allotted by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) at least one lottery draw yearly for the support of its disaster relief operations in addition to its existing lottery draws for its blood program.
RA 10072 defined the composition of the central body of the PRC as the board of governors, composed of "thirty members, six of whom shall be appointed by the President of the Philippines." What others do not know is that the law provides that the President of the Philippines shall be the honorary president of the PRC. The law likewise provided that the PRC "shall, at the end of every calendar year, submit to the President of the Philippines an annual report containing its activities and showing its financial condition."
The statement of Commission on Audit (CoA) chairman Michael Aguinaldo before Congress is truly intriguing: "We do not have jurisdiction to audit the organization" and the existence of CoA Circular No. 95-003 series of 1995 which remains in the books of CoA. The subject of the circular pertains to accounting and auditing guidelines on the release of fund assistance to nongovernmental organizations/people's organizations. If the argument being put forward is that CoA can only audit based on funds given to PRC, clearly audits from the PhilHealth and PCSO sides are in order.
Was it a case of profit maximization for PRC, setting aside humanitarian ends? The PRC apparently behaved like a business corporation or adopted the business model in dealing with the pandemic. Justified, as they need to earn in order to provide the service? Indeed, "in times of war, the loudest patriots are the greatest profiteers." And that is a double-edged sword.
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