By HERBERT VEGO
IN his four years in office, has President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III beefed up the six-year-old Cheaper Medicines Act of 2008? We have heard nothing from him – not even in his five State of the Nation Addresses (SONA) in the years 2010 to 2014.
By now, the law (Republic Act 9205) should have already lived up to its objective of bringing down the prices of at least a thousand essential medicines within the reach of the poor. It’s sickening that he has done nothing to implement the law.
Alas, even if his predecessor – under whom the law was passed – had a record of only around a hundred drugs slash-priced by 50 percent, at least President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo did a consuelo de bobo.
But not PNoy, whose “bosses” are apparently not the consumers but the producers of branded “maintenance medicines” that have become much more expensive.” It’s as if the pro-consumer law has been repealed.
Can we blame the people for now doubting whether the law would still deliver its promise?
A basic defect in the Cheaper Medicines Law is that it has allowed transnational corporations (TNCs) to retain control of 70 percent of the marketing, distribution and pricing of medicines. Their local competitors look like dwarfs in comparison, according to a non-government organization, the Manila-based Consumers Action for Empowerment (CAE).
The TNCs allegedly dictate the pricing of essential medicines through international trade impositions like the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the World Trade Organization (WTO). TNC-dominated patent holders enjoy the exclusive license to produce certain drugs.
There is therefore a need not just to implement the existing law but to amend it by creating a regulatory board that would peg drug prices based on production cost and reasonable profit.
Also, granting of tax holidays to local drug manufacturers would stimulate competition and minimize parallel importation.
Our experience with the Generics Law, in effect for 23 long years already, likewise points an accusing finger to the multinationals that suppress the growth of generic equivalents of branded, expensive drugs. They have somehow succeeded in peddling the false propaganda that cheap generics are impure and therefore ineffective. To this day, generic drugs account for a more or less ten percent of medicines being sold in the Philippines.
Many years ago, Sen. Ralph Recto earned the ire of the poor when he initiated a bill that eventually passed into law. It was the compulsory imposition of the 12% value added taxes (VAT) on goods and services, including food and medicines.
Today, Recto is re-endearing himself to the senior citizens through a bill exempting them from PhilHealth membership.
Like the money-earning young and abled, senior citizens are still required to pay a monthly fee of P200 for PhilHealth coverage.
An exception as proposed by Recto will entitle us seniors to discounted hospitalization in addition to senior citizens’ discount. It is truly proper and fitting, since most senior no longer earn income and yet are the major medicine consumers.
If you have seen a magician making paper money disappear, you would be scratching your head while figuring how it is done.
It’s the same problem boggling the Capiz Baptist Ministers Association and the Evangelical Ministers Fellowship led by Sulpicio Morales Jr. and Ramon Plaza. In an open letter to Gov. Victor Tanco and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Capiz, the “reverends” wonder where the money has gone.
Their allegation is that the province of Capiz was supposed to have received P500 million from the national government for the rehabilitation of Capiz school buildings damaged by super typhoon “Yolanda.” The amount has never been spent yet for that purpose.
May we hear from Rep. Tony del Rosario?/PN