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Roxas urges House to approve bicam report on cheaper meds bill

Sen. Manuel Roxas II called on the House of Representatives yesterday to approve the bicameral conference committee report deleting the provisions on “generics only” and the price monitoring board from the Cheaper Medicine Bill before Labor Day on May 1.

He has already convinced the other senators to sign the report, he added.

Roxas said Representatives Teodoro Locsin Jr. of Makati, Junie Cua of Quirino, Jack Duavit of Rizal, and a number of members of the House contingent have already signed the report.

“It’s quite embarrassing for our workers to know that just when we are about to pass this measure on or before Labor Day, some members of Congress are now trying to block it. Attempts to discredit the bill are the last card of those who are profiting from the high cost of medicine,” he said.

Other members of the House contingent in the bicameral conference committee are: Representatives Antonio Alvarez of Palawan, Janette Garin of Iloilo, Ferjenel Biron of Iloilo, Philip Pichay of Surigao del Sur, Arthur Pingoy of South Cotabato, Edcel Lagman of Albay, Arthur Defensor of Iloilo, Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel of Akbayan and Ronnie Zamora of San Juan.

Roxas is optimistic that Congress will pass the Cheaper Medicine Bill within the week after lawmakers have signed the report.

“There is no reason why this cannot happen,” he said.

“We are circulating the report, we will finish signing this in the Senate by late afternoon or by later tonight, and then it will be sent to Malacañang and it’s now up to the House what they will do.

“We are already circulating the bicam report, and people can sign or not sign. Time is up, pass your papers. You’re either going to help our people, or dribble this again. Remember what happened in the last Congress? The Senate had its version but the House did not pass theirs. Now we are ready, we’re here, let’s see what will happen.

“The House and Senate have agreed, there may be a few who disagree, so let’s ask them, why? Let’s look at the two versions, what they want versus what’s in the bill, and see the differences. There are no differences, or if at all, they are very, very minimal and are certainly not enough reason to stop the passage of the bill.”

Roxas said the Cheaper Medicine Bill became stronger because accountability would rest on the secretary of health and the President of the Philippines.

“Why do they want a drug price board?” he asked.

“Isn’t a board usually where those who lost in the elections and relatives of powerful officials are appointed? I think there is greater transparency when that authority is given to a specific person. In our bicam report, the power to set price ceilings on medicine is given to the Secretary of Health and the President of the Philippines.”

Roxas said all the tools needed by the executive to help bring down the costs of medicine are already contained in the Cheaper Medicine Bill.

“There is a reason why we have vested all of the powers to set prices and to impose penalties with the secretary of health and the President of the Republic of the Philippines,” he said.

“This is to ensure transparency and accountability which may not be possible with a drug price board.”

Speaker Prospero Nograles has authorized the House contingent in the bicameral conference committee to give in to the Senate version of the Cheaper Medicine Bill.

“I was told that conditions have been set in place upon the insistence of our House contingent so the strength of the law is intact as far as the issue on the removal of the regulatory board is concerned,” he said in a statement. “I think that it’s good enough to facilitate its ratification.”

Speaking from Cebu City where he would witness today the signing of the new charter of the University of the Philippines, Nograles said the removal of the regulatory board provision from the Cheaper Medicine Bill has been adequately explained to him and the conditions set to fully enforce the law are intact.

Nograles said he has given House contingent head Rep. Antonio Alvarez of Palawan “full autonomy to deal with the Senate and would support the panel’s decision on whether to go” for the ratification of the bicameral conference committee report.

“They now have full autonomy to agree to go or not to go,” he said. “I trust our bicam members completely and I will support their decision.”

With the assurance of Alvarez and Locsin that the bill has not been diluted and the safeguards are in place, he is confident that the Cheaper Medicine Bill would be ready to be passed before Labor Day, Nograles said.

‘A misnomer’

Iloilo Vice Gov. Rolex Suplico, who originally authored the Cheaper Medicine Bill when he was in Congress between 1998 and 2001, said the mangled piece of legislation, which he re-filed in 2004-2007, is now a misnomer because it would give huge pharmaceutical companies more room for multi-billion-peso profits.

“The bicameral committee should rename this castrated bill as it won’t result in cheap medicine,” he said.

“We should not fool the people. I suggest they rename the bill: An Act Increasing the Profits of Multinational Drug Companies in the Philippines.”

He was the one who coined the term Cheap Medicine Bill in the 13th Congress (2004-2007), when he was on his third and last term, because he believed that it would result in the significant reduction of the cost of medicine, Suplico said.

Senators led by Roxas and Pia Cayetano deleted the generics-only provision and the Drug Price Regulatory Board from the bill.

Locsin said “corrupt” senators who are on the payroll of huge pharmaceutical multinationals must pay dearly for the watered down version of the bill.

“The field of freedom must be watered with the blood of tyrants, just like the meadow of public health must be fertilized with the torn bodies of the usual corrupt senators in the pockets of multinationals,” he said.

Locsin, one of the proponents of the Cheaper Medicine Bill, along with Biron and Garin, wants the senators to return the Drug Price Regulatory Board and generics-only provisions in the bicameral report.

Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya, a partymate of Roxas in the Liberal Party, has warned the public “not to fall into the web of deceit and desperate hysterics being spun by doomsayers” in Congress.

“I have received reports that there is a multi-million PR slush fund to discredit the bill and its key authors,” he said. “Millions of ailing Filipinos have much to lose if this urgent bill is delayed further or derailed permanently.”

Hontiveros said despite the recent snag in the Cheaper Medicine Bill, proponents of the bill will attempt to have the bicameral report signed.

“However, despite the expected signing of the report today, the Senate owes the public an explanation for the snag that the bill encountered,” she said.

“The Senate should fully disclose to the public why it wanted the generics-only provision dropped.”

Hontiveros, a co-author of the bill, including one that amends the Generics Law requiring generic prescriptions only, said the Senate must account for its refusal to consider, negotiate, or even compromise on the generics-only provision.

“The House panel had to endure stonewalling from the Senate, in particular from Cayetano, who obstinately insisted on unreasonable conditions in exchange for the retention of the generics-only provision,” she said.

“Worse, they made it appear as if the promotion of generics is such a bad thing.”

Hontiveros said the arguments of senators against generic drugs echoed the same line carried by pharmaceutical companies and some doctors. – With Delon Porcalla, Perseus Echeminada, Mayen Jaymalin, Christina Paguinto

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