Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Duque hero on Pfizer alleged bribe offer

The Cheaper Medicines Law is a classic example of how strong multinational lobbying muscle is. Prior to that July 8 meeting these pharma companies had with Arroyo, they first had a meeting with Executive secretary Eduardo Ermita. In that meeting, they discussed their apprehensions over the impending implementation of an Executive Order which would mandate a maximum retail price ceiling on at least 22 pharmaceutical products which the Department of Health submitted to Mrs. Arroyo. Remember that it was last June 8, 2008 that the Cheaper Medicines Law was signed by no less than Mrs. Arroyo and it took Malacanang a full year before they decided to implement it.

There is no law that bars multinationals or any other company from lobbying. And there are ethical rules on this. What is so worrisome, to say the least, is the brazenness that these pharma companies are showing.

Pfizer, for example, is too abrasive that it even claims that we're all wrong about the alleged bribery issue. Pfizer made a faux pas when it even stated in its statement that their Sulit card program was implemented a full year ago, at the time when the Cheaper Medicines Law was signed by Mrs. Arroyo. Why only now that it is being offered to the Department of Health (DoH)? If Pfizer indeed went ahead with this program with clean intentions, then, at the onset, they should have partnered up with the DoH.

What Pfizer and the rest of these giant pharmas want is to limit the coverage of the law by voluntarily giving discounts to just 5 million Filipinos. That is a veritable offer to present an alternative solution to the Cheaper Medicines law. The law states that everyone should benefit from lower priced medicines, not just 1.5 million GSIS members or 400,000 indigents under the Philhealth program (the coverage right now of the Sulit Card program). And granting that Pfizer indeed wants to expand the coverage of their sulit cards, 5 million is too small a number just to consider. Why not make it 40 million? And then, further increase it to 60 million then 80 million? Why settle just for 5 million?

These pharmas want to skirt the law and delimit it thru an Executive action. They were unsuccessful in Congress, they're now trying their best to do the lobbying inside Malacanang. And palace occupants are too happy to accommodate them, except Health secretary Francisco Duque.

Duque should be praised by the Filipino People for standing his ground against these multinational companies. Duque categorically stated that "50% price slash or we don't talk." That's the kind of toughness we need at this point. Duque has just shown how government can be effective against these vicious pharmaceutical companies who think that they can just throw their weight around. Of course, these pharmas will still try to lobby when Mrs. Arroyo goes to Washington this July 30, but it remains to be seen whether Mrs. Arroyo would ever compromise government policy over multinational interests.