Roxas hits lobbying by drug firms

MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Manuel Roxas II wants President Arroyo to shed light on reports that pharmaceutical companies have brought their lobbying against the implementation of the Cheaper Medicine Law right to the doorsteps of MalacaƱang and with the help of a presidential adviser.

“I am informed by very reliable sources that recently, President Arroyo held a closed door meeting with representatives of multinational drug firms,” Roxas said.

Roxas said the meeting, held last Wednesday, was meant to find ways “to circumvent the cheaper medicine law, in effect keeping critical drugs out of reach of the poor.”

“I believe that this conspiracy was engineered with the facilitation of an influential presidential adviser who is also connected with one of the multinational pharmaceutical giants,” he said.

He said it was agreed during the meeting that MalacaƱang would hold off the signing of an executive order on the setting of maximum retail price (MRP) and in return the drug companies would slash prices in time for Mrs. Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address on July 27.

Roxas said the oversight committee has sent President Arroyo a “notice of hearing” inviting her or her representative to shed light on the alleged meeting at the Palace with officials of giant pharmaceutical firms.

Roxas also wants Mrs. Arroyo to also explain before the committee her refusal to implement a vital provision of the law that reduces by half the prices of 22 essential drugs. The hearing is set on Monday morning.

“We also appreciate if the Office of the President provides a copy of the duly received letter from Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III recommending the imposition of the maximum retail price as well as a written update on the status of the same,” read the letter from the Senate and the House oversight committees on quality affordable medicine.

Roxas told reporters in an interview that he expects Palace officials to explain this although he believes that the President will ignore the invitation to the hearing set at 9:30 a.m. on Monday.

“I don’t expect the President to come but somebody from the President’s office should explain to the people what that meeting was all about,” he said.

“When I was DTI secretary I know that in meetings like that there is always a note taker. To have a meeting is not bad. It could be a meeting for the industry to express their concerns, to express their complaints like kinokotongan sila (they’re being bilked) maybe in immigration, maybe in customs, in internal revenue,” he said.

“But if it is a meeting to ask the President to subvert the intent of the law, that’s an entirely different matter. So let us know if the President stood firm and said ‘no, I will implement the law,’ then kudos to her, congratulations, and more power,” Roxas said. “I don’t know what the President said, so we must know.”

Among those invited to the hearing were Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Health Secretary Duque, Trade Secretary Peter Favila, and Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya.

Roxas said he wants to review the implementation of the Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicine Law, particularly on the availability of the medicine and testing kits for Influenza A(H1N1).

The Department of Health (DOH) had submitted a draft Executive Order setting the MRP for 22 essential drugs to Mrs. Arroyo as early as June 16.

These drugs include the anti-hypertensive drug Norvasc (to P22.50 from P44.50); anti-diabetic Diamicron (to P7.35 from P14.75); antibiotic Zithromax (to P149.37 from P298.75); and antibiotic Augmentin suspension 60 ml (to P179.50 from P359).

Roxas also lashed out at Duque for not speaking out against the alleged connivance between the administration and the drug firms in circumventing the Cheaper Medicine law.

He also demanded that Tamiflu – now priced as high as P150 per tablet – be included in the MRP.

“Stop playing with the lives of the people and just implement the law, Mrs. President,” he said.

Meanwhile, Roberto Romulo, executive director of the International Board of Advisers and chairman of the Zuellig Family Foundation, said in a statement he lauded efforts to bring down the cost of medicine but stressed that “imposing price controls on a limited number of medicine is not the right approach.”

“Rather than helping people, it will hurt them because it sends the wrong message to the international business community regarding the commitment of our nation to a free market economy and intellectual property rights and it will discourage job-producing foreign direct investment in all business sectors,” he said.

He said that the Zuellig Family Foundation, “an organization of which I serve as chairman, is pleased to inform that 24 off-patent pharmaceuticals (generics) are being manufactured locally at Interphil, the Zuellig manufacturing arm.” He said this was announced by Dr. Stephen Zuellig himself on his 92nd birthday.

“I believe efforts should be directed at working with the pharmaceutical industry to increase these efforts. This will have long term and sustainable impact on the price of healthcare in our country,” Romulo said.


The country’s pharmaceutical companies are set to submit to the government their respective letters of undertaking or their commitment to slash the prices of selected essential medicine as mandated by Republic Act 9502 or the cheaper medicine law.

In spite of the protests raised by the big pharmaceutical companies about the implementing rules and regulations of the law, the government maintained that the law must be followed and they have no choice but to comply.

Favila and Duque admitted that members of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) met with them and Mrs. Arroyo but only to air their concerns about the IRR of the new law.

“The pharmaceutical industry had been meeting with Secretary Duque and they also met separately with me to discuss the implementation of the cheaper medicine bill. They have their respective positions and they cited their respective difficulties,” Favila said.

“After the dialogue that we had, Secretary Duque and I had to tell them that it is incumbent upon the law, it is not within our powers not to implement the law. So that was clear to them,” he added.

“And of course Secretary Duque and I, we said if you wanted to talk to the President, who are we to stop anybody from seeking an audience with the President?” he said.

Favila said that the executives aired their grievances before the President after which he and Duque explained the provisions of the law.

“That was where we had an agreement. I asked for their suggestion and I told them that since you are willing to comply with the provisions of the law, it would be better to have voluntary compliance,” Favila said.

“Come up with a letter of undertaking stating that you are committed to bring down your medicine prices,” he added.

Duque noted that the letters of undertaking should contain the list of medicine that would be subjected to price cuts.

He noted that a total of 21 commonly prescribed medicine were included in the list that would be subjected to a price ceiling.

Duque said that the listed drugs are for non-communicable diseases that kill six of every 10 Filipinos.

By June 18 when the letters of undertaking are submitted by the pharmaceutical firms, Duque said that these would be presented to Mrs. Arroyo.

Duque said that the firms were complaining that they were not consulted in the crafting of the IRR, particularly the identification of the medicine that would be subject to price ceiling.

Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante, who was also in the meeting between PHAP executives and the President, challenged Roxas to prove his allegations that the government was conspiring with the firms to delay the signing of the EO.

“I’m part of this meeting and I don’t want to be a part of any conspiracy. My goodness, I’m a bishop of a very big evangelical denomination and I would like to challenge him for the sake of truth and honesty for him to reveal his reliable source or else he’s rumor-mongering,” he said.


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