The 15-year-old GAMCA monopoly in medical testing for overseas Filipino workers leaving for work in the Middle East has been abolished and overseas Filipino workers can now choose freely which clinics they would undergo their medical examination, Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz assured yesterday.
Baldoz, together with Secretaries Janette Loreto-Garin of the Department of Health, Albert F. Del Rosario of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and Leila de Lima of the Department of Justice, have signed Joint Memorandum Circular No. 2015-0016, or the Abolition of the Monopoly of GCC-Approved Medical Centers Association (GAMCA), and the GAMCA Decking Referral System.
“Joint Memorandum Circular No. 2015-0016 gives every Filipino Migrant worker the freedom to choose any of the DOH-accredited or DOH-operated clinics to conduct their medical examinations The so-called GAMCA decking practice is now prohibited and violators will be subject to criminal sanctions,” said Baldoz after the joint circular was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper.
Before the signing of the joint circular, only members of GAMCA, which is composed of 19 medical clinics, could conduct the medical examinations of OFWs bound for the Middle East countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.
“Upon the effectivity of the joint memorandum circular, the medical testing centers for Middle East-bound OFWs will be now more accessible and the cost of medical examination will be much lower,” said Baldoz.
The Joint Memorandum Circular was prepared by the Inter-Agency Task Force composed of representatives from the Department of Health, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Justice, and Department of Foreign Affairs.
Under the joint memorandum circular, the DOLE, through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), pursuant to its Rules and Regulations, is empowered to suspend or revoke the license of recruitment agencies who engage in “decking and referral” OFW medical examination applicants.
“The POEA can and will also disqualify foreign employers participating in the overseas employment program if found to be involved in the said system,” she said.
The joint memorandum circular states that the Health Facilities and Services Regulatory Bureau of the DOH shall suspend or revoke the license of medical clinics and testing centers involved in the decking and referral system. It will also allow the processing of pre-employment medical examination of OFWs at any DOH accredited medical clinics.
The DOH’s Health Facilities and Services Bureau shall also ensure that all its accredited medical testing centers and facilities are compliant with international standards and establish a schedule of fees to be charged by all medical clinics and testing centers for the pre-employment medical examination for OFWs to prevent overpricing.
The Illegal Recruitment Task Force of the DOJ shall conduct inquest proceedings or preliminary investigations of persons and entities involved in the decking and referral system and, if evidence warrants, file appropriate information and prosecute cases in court.
On the other hand, the DFA shall direct all foreign service posts to inform and seek the cooperation of host governments on the full implementation of Republic Act 8042, as amended by R.A. 10022, or An Act Amending Republic Act No. 8042, Otherwise Known As The Migrant Workers And Overseas Filipinos Act Of 1995, particularly in the conduct of pre-employment medical examination of Filipino migrant workers.
It may be recalled that for the past 15 years, GCC countries have been requiring prospective OFWs applying for employment in GCC-member countries to undergo pre-employment medical examinations only with GCC-Approved Medical Center Association, Inc. (GAMCA) clinics. The system, which has become known as “decking and referral”, requires OFWs to have an appointment from a centralized office upon which he/she will be referred to a designated member-clinic.
Prospective OFWs and Philippine recruitment agencies have commonly complained against the system, saying it undermines the laws of the Philippines, aside from making it unduly difficult for them to comply because delay posed by the long queues by OFWs in so few accredited medical clinics.
Aside from this, the medical examinations under the GAMCA “decking and referral” system cost more, with OFWs paying P2,700 per medical examination.