MANILA, Philippines — An international advocacy group has expressed fears that bills meant to lower the prices of medicines in the country might again not be passed by the 14th Congress because of intense lobbying by giant pharmaceutical companies and a lack of quorum.
Oxfam, which has been closely monitoring such measures, urged lawmakers to show up during deliberations and voting, and also resist “possible favors” from big drug companies represented by the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP).
“The previous Congress already failed the Filipino people by not passing the bill upholding patients’ rights over the foreign drug companies’ patent privileges, for sheer lack of quorum,” Shalimar Vitan, the group’s campaign coordinator for access to medicines, said in a statement sent to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net.
She was ostensibly referring to the lower house whose poor attendance during the two-day special session last February and, again, during the three remaining session days last June, doomed the Cheaper Medicines Act of 2007.
Oxfam made the appeal following Speaker Jose de Venecia’s promise that the bill would be passed within 45 days.
The Senate had earlier passed a starkly different version of the bill, which allows parallel importation of patented medicines. Authors of the House version believe theirs was stronger and more effective in dismantling the so-called “cartel” of giant drug companies.
“Now is the time to redeem themselves as public officials tasked to formulate laws that will bring relief to poor Filipinos,” Vitan said.
The group was so concerned about the passage of the bill its members were perennially present in congressional sessions. Some of them were tasked to watch out for drug company “lobbyists” and take pictures of them approaching lawmakers.
“We expect big, foreign pharmaceutical companies under the Philippine Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) back in the Congress session halls to prevent the bill from being passed,” Vitan said.
“We appeal to our legislators not to succumb to pressures and possible favors from PHAP in exchange for public health.”
During the special session in February, lawmakers from the lower house threw out four lobbyists from PHAP for interfering in the plenary session as they were about to vote to pass the Cheaper Medicines Bill on third reading.
The lobbyists had passed a note to Makati Representative Teodoro Locsin Jr., asking him to question the quorum, a move that would eventually doom the bill.
The PHAP later issued a statement, saying it only wanted Locsin, being a so-called “corporate constituent,” to “listen to our proposed amendments.”
“There is nothing wrong with that [passing a note to a congressman],” PHAP said. “In any democratic country, the first step one must take in order to be heard is to write your congressman.”