Illegal clinics reportedly catering to Chinese nationals suspected with COVID-19 recently alarmed Filipinos and lawmakers who expressed their concerns on its impacts to public health in light of the pandemic.
Authorities have so far discovered unauthorized facilities in the cities of Parañaque, Makati and in Pampanga that were suspected to cater to Chinese nationals working in online gambling outfits, otherwise known as Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGO).
POGOs were introduced in the Philippines the same year that President Rodrigo Duterte, who has shifted the country’s foreign policy shift to China, rose to power.
When the discoveries of underground clinics primarily catering to Chinese nationals working in POGOs emerged, opposition senators Risa Hontiveros and Leila de Lima expressed their concerns about its potential impacts on public health.
Hontiveros believed that the unregulated facilities “can be a source of community transmission” particularly if the patients were found to be infected with COVID-19.
“We will be putting communities at risk and waste our quarantine efforts because of these medical facilities,” she said on Thursday.
De Lima, meanwhile, implied that this could be the reason why POGOs have no reported cases of COVID-19 infection.
“This is not only an alarming attempt to underreport COVID-19 cases and to further compromise the ongoing medical response — which at present is already problematic — but also another instance of the government putting at greater risk the public health and safety just for POGO’s continued operations,” the senator said.
Two illegal clinics and a medicine stockroom dedicated to treating Chinese nationals in Parañaque, which have become one of the main cities filled with POGO workers, were raided by authorities last month.
Boxes of medicines and medical supplies from China were discovered, which include medicines for respiratory illnesses that were allegedly used for possible treatment of COVID-19—which does not have any confirmed treatment yet.
Supplies include dextrose, antiviral and antibacterial drugs and medicines for treating sexually transmitted diseases. There were also chairs with IV stands meant for infusion.
Parañaque City Health Officer Dr. Olga Virtusio believed that the underground facilities mainly catered to POGO workers rampant in the area.
Owners will be charged for violating quarantine protocols, medical regulations and for operating with the necessary government permits.
Authorities also shut down an unregistered clinic in Barangay San Antonio that catered to Chinese nationals. Items that were discovered include rapid test kits, swab sticks, vials, syringes and assorted unregistered medicine with Chinese labels.
The seized medical paraphernalia were estimated to cost around P5.2 million.
It was also reported that authorities discovered four Chinese nationals exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 in the facility.
The owners failed to present proof of being a licensed physician.
They are facing charges of practicing medicine without a license, prescribing and selling drugs without the approval of the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and violating the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
A makeshift medical facility was also discovered in one of the villas at the Fontana Leisure Park that reportedly catered to Chinese nationals suspected to be infected with COVID-19.
Authorities found medical wastes such as used syringes, tubes in unsealed plastic containers, as well as supposed unregistered medicines with Chinese labels.
There were also beds discovered in the underground facility which reportedly served as a hospital for Chinese nationals positive of the viral disease.
One of its patients was transferred to a proper hospital following the raid.
The owners were arrested but eventually released as authorities have yet to establish whether they had used medicines “untested by FDA” and deemed “illegal.”
Nevertheless, the Bureau of Immigration said that the Chinese nationals can be charged for immigration law violations if their probe reveals that the foreigners violated the conditions of their stay in the Philippines.