News and Events

Publication in response to the misleading NOTICE TO PUBLIC by MERCK SHARP & DHOME (MSD) on November 17 & 18, 2013.

Published: THE MANILA TIMES - November 19, 2013

Sahar views to reduce the prices of pharmaceutical products in the SENATE JOINT CONRGESSIONAL HEARING for the implementation of CHEAPER MEDICINES LAW R.A. No. 9502, May 10, 2012

CEO Mr. Muhammad Ateeque in Senate of the Philippines for 15th Congress Meeting on QUALITY AFFORDABLE MEDICINE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE

NTL: Cheaper Medicines Law, hindi raw epektibo dahhil nananatiling mataas ang presyo ng gamot @GMA NEWS

The country needs a Systematic Approach on Healthcare Awareness and Reform by educating our citizens that healthcare products need not be expensive. Sahar position paper in the second and 3rd Joint Congressional Hearing held on March 19 and May 10, 2012 responds collectively from among the advocates of lowering the prices of medicines in the country namely, Sen. Manny Villar of the Philippine Senate, Congressmen Biron and Garcia of the House of Representatives.

Sahar maintains its position that Healthcare Products can be manageably reduced by avoiding prejudicial maneuver of the big pharmaceutical companies. Avoid conspiracy theory being applied in the pharmaceutical industry, and Avoid professional jealousy that could always lead to unhealthy business rivalry. The door for free enterprise on pharmaceutical products must be opened to all private 3rd party as provided in R.A. 9502. The seemingly Monarchial monopoly on pharmaceutical products must put an end to clear the roadblocks.

Written By: Mr. Mack Macalanggan - Head of Public Relation Department

P’que City receives medicine donation from Sahar Pharma - February 21, 2013

PARAÑAQUE CITY, Feb 21 (PIA) -- The city government of Parañaque recently received medicines from Sahar Pharma, following the request of Councilor Benjo Bernabe.

The donation was turned over by Mack Macalanggan,Sahar Pharma managing director, and Jet Juanillo, head pharmacist, on behalf of company President Muhammad Ateeque.

Parañaque City Mayor Jun Bernabe expressed his gratitude to Sahar Pharma for the medicine donation.

“This is a great boost to our health program that goes to the benefit of the citizens of the city. We hope we can have more kind-hearted and well-meaning corporation contribute to our mission of promoting health that people may enjoy life better and be more productive for their own advancement and for the growth of our economy,” Bernabe said adding that the donated medicines will help augment the city’s medicine supplies.

The medicines consist of multivitamins and minerals; medications for fever, headache, stomach pains, hyperacidity, LBM, colds, cough, viral infections, asthma, hypertension; likewise anti-coagulant/thrombolytic, anti-inflammatory, anti-hyperglycemic, anti-cholesterol agents and other general medicines ordinarily prescribed by physicians. (Paranaque-PIO/RJB/JEG-PIA NCR)

Source: By Jimmyley I. Guzma - Philippine Information Agency

Congress urged to review Generics Act - November 3, 2012

MANILA, Philippines - A lawmaker urged Congress yesterday to review the Generics Act of 1988 as prices of medicine remain high for most Filipinos 24 years after its enactment.

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano said Republic Act 6675, the Generics Act of 1988, was meant to ensure the adequate supply of medicine at the lowest possible cost.

“Generic and branded medicine in India and Pakistan are cheaper than those being sold in the Philippines” he said, noting that medicine in the Philippines are more expensive compared to other countries.

“There is a need to review the law and adopt certain measures that will serve the interest of the people,” he said.

Albano said RA 6675 aims to promote, require and ensure the production of adequate supply, distribution, use and acceptance of drugs identified by their generic names.

The cheapest generic drugs are still sold several times higher than those of international reference prices, he added.

Albano said a branded drug for high blood pressure is being sold in the Philippines for P45 but in India, the cost is equivalent to P5.

A medicine to ease stomach cramps is priced at P15.83 per tablet in the Philippines and P1.92 in India, he added.

Source: Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star

Who’s afraid of Pfizer? - July 10, 2012

I CAME across an interesting news item recently regarding a large group of drug stores and grocery chains in the United States banding together to sue pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in connection with the latter’s blockbuster drug, Lipitor.

In the antitrust lawsuit filed by Walgreen, Kroger, Safeway, SuperValu and HEB Grocery in the US District Court of Trenton, New Jersey, the litigants accused Pfizer of “conspiring to delay sales of generic versions of Lipitor, the best-selling drug in history.”

The litigants claimed Pfizer plotted “to keep generic versions of the cholesterol drug off the market after the original patent had expired. Because of the scheme to suppress generic Lipitor, plaintiffs paid hundreds of millions of dollars more than what they should have.”

Obviously, what we are seeing here is another classic example of big business behaving badly to make gazillions more in profit on top of what they have already raked in the past. This tactic to keep cheaper generics unavailable is tantamount to forcing the market to keep on buying Lipitor.

To deflect charges of inappropriate corporate behavior, Pfizer claimed it had a valid excuse in the form of an evergreen patent that supposedly cloaked its product with endless validity. US retailers, on the other hand, alleged the company hid behind a fraudulent patent.

If giant multinational pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer can take cover under legal technicalities in the intellectual-property law to deprive the public access to quality but cheap medicines, isn’t it time for government to find ways to take a chunk off the windfall profits of these companies for the benefit of poor and indigent patients?

Here in the Philippines, Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares might want to take a look at how it can tax big pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer for its essential medicines that are literally making a killing in the market. If Pfizer appears unwilling to give the poor access to expensive medicines, can’t government impose heavy duties on these products? I am no expert in taxation but I believe this can be done through executive action or legislation.The revenues raised by the government will certainly go a long way toward subsidizing expensive medicines manufactured by these multinational pharmaceutical firms.

While writing this column, I also came across an article about jewelry-makers in Bulacan complaining of being taxed heavily by the government. And what of the seeming endless debate on sin-tax proposals that would purportedly burden Filipino tobacco farmers and consumers? If homegrown Filipino companies can be taxed heavily by the government, why not big pharma companies whose windfall profits amount to billions of dollars? The anti-cholesterol drug, Lipitor, reached peak sales of nearly $13 billion a year several years back.

In the Cheaper Medicine Act of 2008, there is a provision that allows government to import the same drugs being sold by the multinationals in the local market. If these multinational companies are selling them at a higher price, why can’t government invoke this provision of the law to bring in affordable but quality medicines to our poor countrymen? If we will not make use of the full force of the law for the benefit of moneyless Filipino patients who do not have access to quality but cheap medicines, then what is the use of passing the law? If global pharma can be clever in finding ways to evade the law by invoking legal technicalities, then government should be a step ahead in finding solutions to provide cheap but quality medicines to those who need it most of all.

Controversies Hound Apeco: Apeco, or the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone, is supposed to be the master plan that will bring economic progress to Aurora, one of the 20 poorest provinces in the Philippines.

And yet, the project created mainly through the efforts of Sen. Edgardo Angara, his son Rep. Sonny Angara, and his sister Gov. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo, has been hounded by controversies.

Just recently, the brother of the slain Dutch development worker Wilhelm Geertman said his brother was a victim of extrajudicial killing due to his involvement in campaigns against landlessness, mining, logging and a large free-port project in Aurora province. The root of the whole problem in Apeco lies in the issue of access to and control over basic livelihood resources in the province

There are questions on the areas for the ecozone being public, state-owned land; surveys have revealed the parcels of land to be titled are under small farmers and indigenous peoples. Some 3,000 families will allegedly be stripped of their land, resources and livelihoods. The coastal waters of the Casiguran Bay, where the ecozone plans to build an international container port, are also situated near Department of Environment and Natural Resources-protected areas of the Calabgan River Watershed Forest Reserve, the habitat of endangered species like whale sharks and sea turtles.

Even more disturbing are architect Felino Palafox’s charges about the viability of the ecozone. According to him, some of the land in question will be going underwater within 25 years.

Conflict-of-interest questions have also dogged Apeco as the legislators of the ecozone, Representative Angara and Governor Angara-Castillo, sit in the Apeco board.

Source: Ed Javier / Firebrand - Business Mirror

Medicines Still Beyond Reach of Many? - July 21, 2012

Drugs in the Philippines are more expensive than those in other parts of Asia and in countries of similar economic status.

Brand names in the Philippines have been found to be 5 to 30 times more expensive than similar brand names of similar manufacturers in India and Pakistan. This is the strongest factor that impelled the government to institute a parallel drug importation policy under the Cheaper Medicines Program. (Tables 1 and 2)

Worsening: The trend is not improving. In fact, it is worsening, at least until after the imposition of the Government Mediated Access Price in 2010.

As Table 3 shows, the ratio of local median prices to international reference prices, especially for innovator (or originator) brands, in both public and private sectors, rose in most of the past decade. Indeed, the ratios of Philippine price to India price for all the four branded drugs considered in Figure 1 rose from 2004 to 2010.

Gains: Gains have been achieved in the production and consumption of generic drugs, following the enactment of the Generics Act in 1988.

In the first-ever Generics Summit held in September 2008, as many as 28 generic-drug companies were given quality seals for good manufacturing practices. The number of good manufacturing practice (GMP) compliant firms has since increased to 53, though a larger number of firms continues to operate without having yet complied with GMP standards.

Nonetheless, the larger firms manufacturing prescription drugs now meet GMP standards.

Today, it is claimed that 5 to 6 out of 10 Filipinos now purchase generic drugs. As Table 4 shows, an increasing proportion of Filipinos are buying cheaper generic drugs and the proportion of households that did not buy medicines (for any reason) has declined significantly.

The Department of Health has mandated all government health workers to use only generic terminologies in drug purchasing, prescribing, dispensing and reimbursement. Reports indicate that generic manufacturers now sell at prices 55 to 80 percent lower than their branded counterparts.

Prices Still High: However, even the cheapest generics in the Philippines still sell at a high multiple of international reference prices. The case is even worse for originator drugs. Thus, affordability of drugs remains a serious problem.

A World Health Organization (WHO) survey of patients in health facilities in 2009 defined affordability as the number of days’ wages that the lowest-paid government employee needs to purchase standard treatments for selected conditions.

The results, shown in Table 5, indicate that drugs remain prohibitive for the lowest-earning households. This means that drugs are even more prohibitive for the unemployed and indigent.

In a separate WHO household survey in 2009, it was found that the average cost of a prescription for acute illness was P485 and the monthly cost of medicines for chronic diseases was P946.

Self-Treatment: Health insurance penetration among the surveyed households was very low and even among those with health insurance, medicines for outpatient care were not usually covered.

To economize on going to the doctor, Filipinos commonly resort to self-treatment or self-prescription.

In the WHO household survey, over half of the medications taken in acute illness were self-prescribed or prescribed by a nonhealth professional. Of course, this practice of self-treatment creates its own problems, including possible improper medication and drug resistance in the case of use of antibiotics.

The household affordability of medicines is particularly acute for sufferers of chronic and debilitating illnesses requiring maintenance drugs. A study on diabetes care in the country shows that there are very few sustainable measures for the maintenance of regular medications of diabetics because of personal cost constraints, which result in irregular treatment that lead to more expensive complications and hospital admissions later.

Onus on Households: Households spend a significant percentage of medical care on drugs and poorer households tend to spend a larger share of their medical care costs on drugs than richer households do. (Figure 2)

During the year, the poorest households spend on average more than half (59 percent) of their medical care costs on drugs. For the richest households, this proportion is 41 percent. Thus, relative to their income and medical care costs, the poor bear a heavier load on drug costs than do richer households.

Health Insurance: Why do drugs take up a large proportion of household medical care costs, especially among the poor?

A primary reason is the absence or weakness of risk pooling. Many of the poor, especially those in the informal sector, are not in any health insurance risk pool, such as PhilHealth, private health insurance, or community, local government unit, or other microinsurance programs. Moreover, even if they were in a risk pool, outpatient drug purchases are typically not a covered benefit in such risk pools, including PhilHealth. (Table 6)

As for inpatient PhilHealth drug benefits, poor purchasing practices (especially in government hospitals) often lead to bloated costs. The absence of drugs in many government hospitals also forces households to buy from private pharmacies (out-of-pocket spending). Thus, the two long-standing problems related to this issue are:

No capitation for primary care. The lack of a capitation system to pay for primary care providers is a severe shortcoming as 89 percent of pharmacy sales are made on outpatient settings.

No case-based payment for hospital care. Under fee-for-service (itemized billing) system of paying providers, private hospitals and physicians have little incentive to use cheaper drug alternatives (such as generics) because the higher their value of claims, the more reimbursements they obtain and the better off they would be.

Factors Affecting Prices:

Most drug ingredients in the Philippines are imported. Most local drug manufacturing is through a toll system, a version of contract manufacturing where production is outsourced by an originating company to third parties.

About 80 percent of toll manufacturing by multinational companies is done by Interphil Laboratories, a sister company of Zuellig Pharma, which itself accounts for about 80 percent of wholesale distribution.

Another key factor in the local pharmaceutical market is the overwhelming share of branded medicines. Before the end of the previous decade, the overwhelming demand for drugs is for originator brands and “branded generics.” True generics accounted for a very small percentage (about 3 percent) of sales. By contrast, they accounted for as much as 50 percent of the US market. This is counterintuitive in light of the already off-patent status of many of the essential drugs in the Philippines.

Lack of Knowledge: Lack of household knowledge of drugs, pervasive marketing and advertising, the strong role of medical representation in the sale of drugs and the incentives given to prescribing doctors have been frequently cited as contributing to the persistence of high drug prices and the high consumption of branded drugs in the country.

But perhaps the most important factor is the sheer lack of supply of generic alternatives to households wanting them, a situation that persisted until past the middle part of 2000s when generics finally emerged on their own, thanks in part to initiatives like parallel drug importation, village pharmacies, drug franchises and drug treatment packs.

Ball and Tisocki (2009) undertook a study in three regions of the country to examine the price components for originator brands and a generic version of six medicines—cotrimoxazole, coamoxiclav, atenolol, glibenclamide, amlodipine and atorvastatin.

The study covered public hospital pharmacies, chain and independent retail pharmacies, and village pharmacies (Botika ng Barangay). The selling price to patients was determined at each outlet and then the price was traced back through the supply chain through distributors to manufacturers or importers, using invoices and/or other documents from which validated data could be obtained.

The results of the study indicate the following:

Highly concentrated market structure and product segmentation. Richer Filipinos tend to use originator brands and “branded generics” sourced from private drugstores and hospitals, while poorer Filipinos rely to a greater extent on lower-priced generics sourced from public facilities and community outlets. The middle class tends to follow richer Filipinos’ use of originator brands and “branded generics” but with greater use of public facilities.

The dominance of expensive originator brands and “branded generics” among upper-class Filipinos is due to a number of factors, including strong marketing by dominant manufacturers and support of their products by prescribing physicians enticed by medical representatives; lack of competition from public and NGO outlets which concentrate on provision of lower-priced generics to the poor; information imbalance among patients relying on physician advice and lack of knowledge of competing products; and inadequate assurance of the generics’ quality by the Food and Drug Administration, leading to popular doubts about the bioequivalence of generics to more expensive originator brands or “branded generics.”

High retailer markups. For generic products, markups ranged from 5 to 355 percent at the retailer level and 18 to 117 percent at the distributor level. For originator brand products, markups were relatively lower (5 to 8 percent) at private retail pharmacies. However, a large chain pharmacy had markups that ranged from 2 to 60 percent.

Cost-increasing value-added tax (VAT). VAT is charged at a rate of 12 percent which the patient has to pay. The original VAT is incurred at the first stage of the supply chain, and distributors and retailers often charge their markup based on the VAT inclusive price rather than on the cost excluding VAT. This practice ratchets up the price paid for by the patient.

Adverse effect of senior citizens’ discounts. Senior citizens are eligible for a 20-percent discount on the retail price of medicines. While retailers could offset some of this cost (7 percent) through their VAT returns, there is no specific budgetary provision for this. So, the remaining 13 percent has to be recouped by retailers through increased prices to all patients.

Discount schemes. To promote their corporate image, pharmaceutical companies and retailers have resorted to loyalty cards that provide discounts and thereby offer incentives to customers to purchase a particular brand or to buy from a particular store.

These programs are often accompanied by patient assistance schemes that in turn channel consumers to the promoted products. The discount programs of Pfizer and Mercury Drug have been the most visible in this regard. While there are certain positive features in such programs, they also tend to cause irrational medicine selection by patients or their physicians, and could discourage them from looking at other (cheaper) alternative drugs.

Through a combination of the above factors, there is a noticeable large variation in the prices of fast-moving drugs in the Philippines. Some outlets charge as much as two or three times the price of similar drugs in other outlets.

(Oscar F. Picazo, a former senior economist of the World Bank Pretoria office, is a consultant to the Philippine Institute for Development Studies. This article was excerpted from the PIDS discussion paper “Review of the Cheaper Medicines Program of the Philippines,” which was released in June.)

Source: Oscar F. Picazo - Philippine Daily Inquirer

How about some transparency from Pfizer? - July 14, 2012

It came as a very short report buried in the inside pages of The Philippine STAR in the Metro section on page 13 entitled, “Cough syrup recalled from market.” As the report goes, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ordered the recall of a cough syrup from the market to prevent possible health risk to consumers. Apparently this cough syrup is Robitussin DM products by that giant pharmaceutical company Pfizer that apparently and voluntarily recalled its product due to an error in labeling.

As the report by FDA Officer-in-Charge Nicolas Lutero goes, “The products were found to have discrepancies on both primary label and cartoon regarding dosage instructions.” I’m writing this piece because for more than a week now… I have been taking Robitussin because of my cough and colds and it seems… that I only threw away my money taking this drug because I have already consumed two bottles… and a third one waiting to be used and I’m still having my colds. So what’s up Pfizer? What are you telling us?

If you ask me, removing the Robitussin products from the shelves of drugstores is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. What about the thousands of folks who bought this medicine from all over the country? Are we expected to just stop taking it without any recompense? Mind you, these medicines are not cheap… even if you can buy them over the counter.

Perhaps the FDA and Pfizer ought to be transparent on this issue and tell us more than just giving a report that they took away the unsold Robitussin off the shelves of drugstores all over the country. We expect the FDA to dig deeper into this potentially explosive situation and tell the people the real story why all of the sudden Pfizer removed these medicines from the shelves.

Source: SHOOTING STRAIGHT By Bobit S. Avila - THE PHILIPPINE STAR

Pfizer recalls Robitussin product due to label errors - July 7, 2012

MANILA, Philippines - Pharmaceutical company Pfizer is voluntarily recalling its cough syrup medicine due to errors in its labeling, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in its advisory.

The FDA said Pfizer Consumer Healthcare informed its office of the recall of its Robitussin DM product, which contains Dextromethorphan HBr 15 mg and Guaifenessin 100 mg per 5 mL due to labeling error.

"The continuous distribution of the said product present health risk to the consuming sector of the public," the advisory said, which was signed by Nicolas Lutero III, assistant secretary of health and FDA’s officer-in-charge.

The products have discrepancies on both the primary label and carton regarding dosage instructions for children 2 to 6 years old

The wrong label states that dosage for the said age group is 2.5 mL or equivalent to 1 teaspoonful, when the correct dosage should have been 1/2 teaspoonful for every 6 hours.

Lutero added that “anyone who may have bought the affected products are advised to discontinue using the same and immediately coordinate” with Pfizer.

Source: ABS-CBN NEWS

GlaxoSmithKline to pay $3B for health fraud - July 4, 2012

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) – British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline will pay $3 billion in fines – the largest health care fraud settlement in US history – for criminal and civil violations involving 10 drugs that are taken by millions of people.

The Justice Department said Monday that GlaxoSmithKline PLC will plead guilty to promoting popular antidepressants Paxil and Wellbutrin for unapproved uses. The company also will plead guilty to failing to report to the government for seven years some safety problems with diabetes drug Avandia, which was restricted in the US and banned in Europe after it was found in 2007 to sharply increase the risks of heart attacks and congestive heart failure.

In addition to the fine, Glaxo agreed to resolve civil liability for promoting Paxil, Wellbutrin, asthma drug Advair and two lesser-known drugs for unapproved uses. The company also resolved accusations that it overcharged the government-funded Medicaid program for some drugs, and that it paid kickbacks to doctors to prescribe several drugs including Flovent for asthma and Valtrex for genital herpes.

Sir Andrew Witty, Glaxo’s CEO, expressed regret Monday and said the company has learned “from the mistakes that were made.”

This is the latest in a string of settlements related to drug companies putting profits ahead of patients. In recent years, the government has cracked down on drugmakers’ tactics, which include marketing medicines for unapproved uses. While doctors are allowed to prescribe medicines for any use, drugmakers cannot promote them in any way that is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Source: THE PHILIPPINE STAR NEWS

Anti-trust bill seen to protect whistleblowers. June 14, 2012

Sen. Manny Villar said the anti-trust bill, once enacted, will prove to be a potent law against unfair trade practices with the provision that will protect whistleblowers who will provide evidence against persons or firms engaging in anti-competitive practices.

“It’s easy to say companies are conspiring to fix prices to the detriment of consumers but without evidence, we can’t penalize them. That is why we included in the bill a provision that will encourage people to blow the whistle and provide information,” Villar said.

Senate Bill 3098 or the Competition Act protects persons who provide information on a company’s illegal activities from economic retaliation.

Villar, chairman of the committee on trade and commerce, sponsored the report on this bill before the break. The Senate is expected to continue its deliberation on second reading when session resumes.

Under the proposed leniency program, whistleblowers are accorded immunity from suit or charge. It will protect any person or firm which cooperates or furnishes any information, document or data to the Office for Competition, from any form of reprisal or discrimination.

The bill also seeks the creation of an Office for Competition under the Department of Justice, which has the power to investigate any violation of the act.

It also has the power to issue subpoena to require the production of books, record or other documents or to summon witnesses relevant to an investigation.

Villar said the Competition Act will prevent the concentration of economic power in few persons who threaten to control the production, distribution or trade to stifle competition, distort, manipulate or constrict the discipline of free markets and increase market prices.

“This landmark legislation will not only provide greater security to the business community, and put the country in compliance with global business practices and standards, but more importantly, it will offer our Filipino consumers a better and thriving marketplace teeming with premium products and services at reasonable prices,” Villar said.

Source: THE PHILIPPINE STAR NEWS

Anti-trust bill will protect whistleblowers, says Villar. June 13, 2012

Sen. Manny Villar said the anti-trust bill, once enacted, will prove to be a potent law against unfair trade practices with the provision that will protect whistleblowers who will provide evidence against persons or firms engaging in anti-competitive practices.

"It's easy to say companies are conspiring to fix prices to the detriment of consumers but without evidence, we can't penalize them. That is why we included in the bill a provision that will encourage people to blow the whistle and provide information," Villar said.

Senate Bill 3098 or the Competition Act protects persons who provide information on a company's illegal activities from economic retaliation.

Villar, chairman of the Committee on Trade and Commerce, sponsored the report on this bill before the break. The Senate is expected to continue its deliberation on Second Reading when session resumes.

Under the proposed leniency program, whistleblowers are accorded immunity from suit or charge. It will protect any person or firm which cooperates or furnishes any information, document or data to the Office for Competition, from any form of reprisal or discrimination.

The bill also seeks the creation of an Office for Competition under the Department of Justice, which has the power to investigate any violation of the act.

It also has the power to issue subpoena to require the production of books, record or other documents or to summon witnesses relevant to an investigation.

Villar said the Competition Act will prevent the concentration of economic power in few persons who threaten to control the production, distribution or trade to stifle competition, distort, manipulate or constrict the discipline of free markets and increase market prices.

"This landmark legislation will not only provide greater security to the business community, and put the country in compliance with global business practices and standards, but more importantly, it will offer our Filipino consumers a better and thriving marketplace teeming with premium products and services at reasonable prices," Villar said.

Source: www.senate.gov.ph

Villar Bill Goes After Monopolies. June 9, 2012

Sen. Manny Villar is seeking the speedy approval of a bill that will protect consumers against unfair trade practices and put an end to monopolies and cartels with the creation of an Office for Competition under the Department of Justice.

In his sponsorship speech before the Senate adjourned last Wednesday, Villar, chairman of the committee on trade and commerce, said Senate Bill 3098, or the Competition Act of 201, seeks to prevent the concentration of economic power in a few persons who threaten to control the production, distribution or trade to stifle competition, distort, manipulate or constrict the discipline of free markets and increase market prices.

Villar proposed the creation of an Office for Competition under the Department of Justice which will have the power to investigate possible monopolies and companies acting like cartels to the detriment of consumers.

The Office of Competition will have the power to issue subpoenas and require the production of books, record or other documents or to summon witnesses relevant to an investigation.

Villar said that while regulations discouraging the emergence of monopolies and cartels are not entirely new in the Philippines, existing laws have been proven inadequate and ineffective to inhibit anti-competitive structures and practices.

Villar noted that despite the ideal scenario of a perfect competition in the market, consolidations and mergers still occur which brings entire industries under the influence of a few people.

"When this happens, it opens the possibility of dominance over business drivers like price and supply by these chosen few. In effect, these so-called monopolies and cartels pose undue advantage over our micro, small, and medium enterprises thereby making it easier to drive out these smaller players from the industry," he said.

SB 3098 wants to make it unlawful for firms to engage in anti-competitive conduct or any conduct with the effect of unreasonably preventing, restricting or lessening substantially competition.

The bill penalizes abuse of dominance, which occurs when a firm abuses their market position by engaging in unfair competition with the purpose of preventing, restricting, or lessening competition. What constitutes this would be the selling of goods or services below cost, unless for clearance, inventory, sale or any other valid purpose; imposing barriers to entry; or setting prices or other terms or conditions that differ or discriminate between the customers and sellers.

Source: MANILA BULLETIN - ROLLY T. CARANDANG

Villar wants no VAT on medicines. March 22, 2012:

MANILA, Philippines - Senator Manny Villar today filed a bill seeking to remove value-added tax on medicines.

The case, filed by Pfizer against Sahar International Trading Inc., stemmed from the selling and distribution of a drug that reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke, lowers bad cholesterol level, and prevents other diseases.

”VAT should not be really imposed on medicines. It is additional burden to our poor countrymen. They have no enough money to buy food, how much more if they need to buy medicines,” Villar said.

Villar, chairman of the Quality Affordable Medicine Oversight Committee, filed Senate Bill 3163 which seeks to exempt the sale and importation of drugs, medicines, pharmaceutical products and related raw materials and pharmaceutical equipment and instruments used for drug manufacturing from the coverage of Republic Act 8424 or the National Internal Revenue Code.

Villlar’s son, congressman Mark Villar of Las Piñas, has also filed a counterpart bill at the House of Representatives.

The younger Villar said tax on medicine is regressive and becomes more burdensome on the poor who are less likely to have access to medicines.

The Family Income and Expenditure Survey of the National Statistics Office, drugs and medicines account for 46 percent of the total medical out-of-pocket expenses of households. An average person spends P1,136 or around US$ 22, on medical care totaling 3.2 percent of the total expenditures per person. For the low income group, expenditure on drugs and medicine is about 50 percent more.

“The removal of tariffs and VAT on medicines will lead to significant savings for our people and makes healthcare more affordable to every Filipino,” Senator Villar said.

Villar, also chairman of the Senate Committee on Trade and Commerce, said additional legislation is needed to lower the price of medicine especially because RA 9502 or the Cheaper Medicines Act fails to bring affordable quality medicine to the poor. During public hearings held by Villar, it was revealed that medicines remain to be one of the most expensive commodities in the country.

Presently, pharmaceutical companies import basic active ingredients, raw and other auxiliary materials for the manufacture of medicines. Upon importation, these products are already burdened with duties and tariffs. In addition, a 12 percent VAT is imposed on their sales. On top of that, the sale of manufactured drugs is subject to another 12 percent VAT and sales tax by local governments. With all these fees and taxes, medication becomes more unreachable for the ordinary Filipino.

Source: THE PHILIPPINE STAR

Maraming gamot, mahal pa rin kahit may Cheaper Medicines Act of 2008. MARCH 19, 2012:

Source: THE DAILY TRIBUNE NEWS PAPER

Manny Villar: Cheaper Medicines. March 13, 2012:

MANILA, Philippines — In less than three months from today, we will mark the fourth anniversary of Republic Act 9502, “The Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act,” signed in June 6, 2008.

Last March 8, the Senate Committee on Trade and Commerce, which I chair, conducted a public hearing to review the progress of implementing the cheaper medicines law and whether it has benefited the poor, supposedly the main beneficiary of bringing down drug prices.

Frankly, I was disappointed when I was informed that no one really monitors how this very important pro-poor law is being implemented, particularly compliance by drug companies and drug stores.

If, indeed, no one is monitoring its implementation, how do we expect everybody to comply? And, why do the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the law limit price ceilings to just 22 types of medicines?

The law provides penalties for violations of its provisions, but without monitoring, the law becomes toothless and ineffective. This is regretful. It deprives the people, especially the poor, access to quality, effective, and affordable medicines.

Modern times have brought about a lot of diseases never known in the past, so I am so disappointed that the IRR of RA 9502 is limited only to a few medicines. The objective of the law is for a much wider coverage, which means far more benefits to the poor than 22 medicines can give.

It seems that the problem with high prices of medicines goes all the way back to the manufacturers. I agree with the position of drug stores that if the prices set by manufacturers are high, the drug stores are unable to sell at low prices. So, it is fair to set price ceilings on the manufacturers, too. For this purpose, a Price Regulatory Board for medicines may be a good idea.

There are also persistent reports about the existence of monopolies or cartels in the drug industry which allegedly control more than 50 percent of drug distribution. My committee intends to invite representatives of drug manufacturers in a future hearing to present their side on this issue, and, hopefully, to get their input on how to improve the law.

The law focuses, on parallel importation as a way of bringing down drug prices. Under parallel importation, the same drug that is produced and sold at high prices in the Philippines can be imported, with or without the consent of the patent owner, from other countries (like India and Pakistan) and sold here at prices much lower than locally manufactured drugs.

However, the law does not provide for the development of a local drug company (outside of the local subsidiaries of multinationals) that could have taken advantage of the fact that between 80 and 90 percent of essential drugs being sold in the Philippines are no longer patented..

I expect to receive more comments and suggestions which my committee can take into consideration in reviewing the Cheaper Medicines Law.

At this stage, what is clear is that the law needs to be amended to remedy the problems that came out in its implementation in the past four years.

We will, indeed, propose amendments, but these will be in keeping with the spirit of the law--- to make essential medicines within reach of the majority of poor people.

After all, providing healthcare to the people does not only mean giving them access to consultations with medical specialists. It also means helping them buy cheaper medicines prescribed for their illnesses.

Source: THE MANILA BULLETIN