TUCP gets down to business

Published by rudy Date posted on September 15, 2008

by Rene Martel
from The Manila Times

ADHERING to the tried and tested adage that if you can’t beat them join them, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines—concerned by the high price of medicines—is well on the way establishing a network of outlets to help resell high quality, low-priced medicines to marginal families, particularly those dependent on fixed-wage earners.

“We are just waiting for the implementing guidelines of the new law. Once they are finalized, we will definitely come in and give more meaning to the law by getting involved in the retail distribution of imported, affordable medicines,” said former Senator and TUCP general secretary Ernesto Herrera.

Herrera was referring to the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Law of 2008, or Republic Act 9502.

“We’ve already had preliminary discussions with Senator Mar Roxas on the matter. He has promised to help us find ways to make vital medicines more accessible to workers,” Herrera said.

Roxas is principal author of RA 9502 and chairman of the Senate committee on trade and commerce.

Herrera said the labor center may get its supply of medicines from the state-run Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC), just like the Botika ng Bayan outlets, or from other accredited importers.

“We may enlist the help of member-labor federations, local unions or even a number of partners from the private sector, if necessary,” Herrera added.

“Affordable medicines have become an absolute necessity, especially now that workers and other consumers have to cope with soaring food and other commodity prices,” Herrera pointed out.

Herrera made the statement shortly after the Drug Store Association of the Philippines (DSAP) expressed concern over a provision in RA 9502 that requires all pharmacies to carry certain medicines imported by the government via the PITC.

The DOH has a November 4 deadline to release the IRR of the new law, which seeks to provide Filipinos greater access to inexpensive drugs by reinforcing the PITC’s parallel importation scheme, and by allowing any entity to import patented medicines sold cheaper in other countries.

The new law relaxes existing patent rules by declaring that parallel importation does not violate trademarks, as long as the medicines brought in are determined to be genuine counterparts produced in other countries.

Herrera lamented that health protection in the country remains grossly inadequate, with only one of every three citizens covered by medical insurance. He said the government’s insufficient financial resources have hampered universal health insurance coverage.

As a result, Herrera said Filipinos have to take out of their own pockets more than 40 percent of all health-related spending, including the purchase of high-priced medicines.

On another subject, Senator Roxas, called on the business sector to reach out to local governments in Mindanao that are facing political and economic instability as a result of the government’s failure in dealing with the peace and order situation in the area.

“There is a need for big business reaching out and engaging small local communities, assisting the hundreds of thousands of Mindanaoans who are without homes and whose lives are in constant danger in these affected areas,” said Roxas when addressing members of the Makati Business Club (MBC) and the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP).

He was joined by Vice-Governor Manny Piñol of North Cotabato and former Muslim Affairs Undersecretary Zamzamin Ampatuan.

“Most people in the local communities feel disconnected from whatever else is going on in Manila and nationwide. This is an opportunity for big business to have an impact on real lives, real people and real communities,” he said.

“The peace achieved in some areas in Mindanao, such as in Iligan City, is being threatened by an agreement that is supposedly for peace, but that is actually borne of coercion and deception on the part of the government peace panel. The damage has been done, but it is now up to the government to keep citizens safe and bring those responsible for the killings and burnings in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato to justice,” he said.

“On the economic side, big business can provide the necessary resources for local communities to get back on track. I thank the MBC and the MAP for extending a hand and their willingness to discuss the matter further with me and local officials,” Roxas added.

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