Fil-Am doctors protest vs new PH rules

Posted at 08/15/2012 8:43 AM | Updated as of 08/15/2012 5:50 PM

MARYLAND - New rules governing foreign medical missions in the Philippines are dampening the enthusiasm of some Filipino-Americans at a time when Philippine officials are precisely calling on them to “give back” to the mother country.

Many are complaining that helping Filipinos back home just got more complicated.

“When the requirement becomes too difficult, less physicians will volunteer their time to join medical missions,” Maryland-based Dr. Zorayda Lee-Llacer told the Manila Mail.

“To me this is R.I.P. to our enviable, proud tradition of giving back to our less fortunate fellow countrymen,” rued Dr. Juan Montero II of Chesapeake, Va. in an email seen by the Manila Mail.

At least one Fil-Am group has already decided to put-off a scheduled medical-surgical mission to San Jose, Antique in mid-January 2013.

The Philippine Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC) started to implement last July a new set of guidelines that puts into motion a law signed by then President Joseph Estrada, among the last bills he approved before being ousted in a People Power revolt almost 12 years ago.

Efforts to spare Fil-Am physicians doing volunteer work in the Philippines have apparently been ongoing for the past several years. Now they are upset that the PRC is actually pushing through with the new requirements.

The guidelines are contained in a resolution approved last June 21 that stipulated, among others, non-Filipino professionals who intend to practice a profession in the Philippines – including those joining short-duration volunteer missions – to register or secure special temporary permits from the PRC and the respective Professional Regulatory Boards.

The rules covered foreign nationals in the Philippines through international treaty or agreements, including those working for foreign companies or aid organizations, and “former Filipino professionals”.

The special temporary permits are valid for only one year but can be extended. The permits can be obtained by paying a P3,000 ($73) application fee, P8,000 ($195) for the cost of the ID itself and the purchase of liability insurance.

Foreign doctors need to produce a copy of their passport, an authenticated copy of the professional license issued by their country of origin, proof of purchase of liability insurance in the Philippines and the Special Temporary Permit.

Balikbayan Filipino physicians may opt to renew their Philippine licenses by showing their old PRC identification card, a copy of their license or registration issued by their adopted country and payment of a penalty equivalent to the number of years they allowed their Philippine license to expire.

Pablito Alarcon said he’s been trying to renew his Philippine geodetic engineer’s license but one requirement is to attend a seminar and join the Geodetic Engineer Association of the Philippines.

But he noted the seminar is not available online which poses a major stumbling block for engineers like him who may wish to use skills and experience, honed by years of working in the US, to help countrymen back home.

Dr. Lee-Llacer says that while she agrees aggrieved families should be compensated for medical malpractice that could be a tempting target for opportunistic lawyers.

“Malpractice insurance is the red meat for tort lawyers. Haven't we learned that in US and guess what has happened to our unaffordable healthcare system?” Dr. Montero asked.

“When we go on surgical missions, we spend our own money for the air fare to the Philippines. We bring a significant amount of surgical supplies that we give to the hospital. We spend our valuable time collecting and packing these supplies. We spend money from our own pockets to ship these supplies. This is a labor of love,” Dr. Lee-Llacer stressed.

She added that proof of a valid license especially those issued in the US should suffice to establish the competence of visiting Fil-Am professionals. “Those are not easy to get,” she argued, “The US requires many proofs of training and specialty certifications. All states monitor the practice of every physician.”

“My husband and I have been members of the Maryland Medical State Board, each one of us served 8 years which is a total of 16 years,” she pointed out.

Dr. Lee-Llacer added that in most instances, medical-surgical missions by visiting Fil-Am doctors and nurses are pre-approved by medical organizations in the targeted beneficiary areas, and they submit reports to local government and village officials before leaving.

“We do not want to compete with the income of local practitioners,” she told the Manila Mail.

The need for help from overseas Filipinos couldn’t have been more relevant with days of torrential rains flooding large parts of the Metro Manila region and surrounding provinces.