Cheaper med law functional but…

By Herbert Vego

DURING an interview with former Congressman Ferjenel “Ferj” Biron on the radio program “Tribuna sang Banwa” on Aksyon Radyo last Sunday, we grabbed the chance to complain about the apparent non-compliance by certain drugstores of the law he had authored, the Cheaper Medicines Act of 2008.

The law (RA 9502) as passed during the incumbency of Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was aimed at slashing down by half the prices of essential medicines.

We told Biron about my personal experience of being unable to buy in big pharmacies a generic version of salbutamol nebule for inhalation. Only the costlier “branded” ones are always available.

The former congressman – whose own company, Philippine Pharmawealth, is a manufacturer of cheaper medicines – admitted that the big pharmaceutical chains prefer selling branded ones.

That leaves the patient the option of going somewhere else to find his cheaper choice.

As a doctor of medicine, Biron assured our audience that both the well-known and lesser versions contain similar molecules.

It’s not really for the love of branded drugs that some patients tend to patronize them; it’s for “peace of mind” on getting the right stuff.  Whether true or false, the word has spread that lesser known alternatives could either be fake or “adulterated,” hence substandard.

No wonder the people now doubt whether the law has served its true purpose of making essential medicines affordable to the less fortunate. Higher price does not mean higher quality.

We could only guess that Biron himself must have gone frustrated over the failure of RA 9502 to restrain transnational corporations (TNCs) from retaining control of 70% of the marketing, distribution and pricing of medicines. The TNCs dictate the pricing of essential medicines. They enjoy the exclusive license to produce certain drugs.

Knowing that he is running anew for congressman (4th District, Iloilo) in May, 2022, this writer would like to suggest to him to amend the law in accordance with his original intention, which was to create a regulatory board under the Department of Health that would peg drug prices based on production cost and reasonable profit.

The law as passed in the Senate had eliminated the said regulatory mechanism, No thanks to the Big Pharma for lobbying against the creation of the Drug Price Regulatory Board to be chaired by a representative from the DOH and co-chaired by a representative from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), with representatives from the academe, consumer groups, health professionals and economic organizations.

The board would have compelled the drug manufacturers to disclose information with respect to costing. Only then would the government set the maximum retail price.

The Big Pharma controls 80% of medicine supplies; they enjoy 30% discriminatory volume discount that is not passed on to customers.

Price regulation would level the playing field, as it has done in China, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

There was a time when the Council for Health and Development (CHD), a national organization of community-based health programs, bewailed the unabated monopoly trade among big players in the drug industry that tends to further banish local manufacturers into oblivion. The grievance fell on deaf ears.

If I remember right, Biron’s original bill had also sought to grant tax holidays to local drug manufacturers who would comply with the price-cut provisions of the law.

Our experience with the Generics Law – brainchild of the late Cong. Narciso Monfort — likewise points an accusing finger at 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, by conservative estimate, generic drugs account for only ten percent of medicines being sold in the Philippines.




NOTHING seems hidden as far as MORE Power’s “call of duty” in Iloilo City is concerned. Its so-called “line warriors” quickly respond to emergency situations, as in restoration of power during brownouts.

Each job done is a transparent one, with live video coverage visible to MORE customers on Facebook. Yesterday, for instance, we saw two teams of responders attending to two separate “missions” in different locations.  One of them took charge of replacing a broken cross-arm of a pole at Barangay Sooc, Mandurriao. A cross-arm attached to the pole supports the power lines purveying electricity to households.

The other was a six-hour pre-scheduled rehab operation at Libertad and Arguelles Streets, Jaro, which involved replacement of dilapidated poles and cross-arms; and relocation of distribution transformers. Arguelles was scene of a fire that recently levelled down a big house.

Roving personnel are always around to check for defects, jumpers or harmful barriers that could cause accidents.  They report the problem, which is immediately calendared for “line works.”  Whenever possible, the problem gets corrected without having to cut off power. Otherwise, customers are informed of repairs necessitating intentional brownout a few days ahead.