July 20, 2009
ROXAS DEMANDS MEDS LAW LOBBY RECORDS FROM PFIZER
Liberal President Senator Mar Roxas today demanded that Amerian giant pharmaceutical firm Pfizer Inc. open its records to a congressional oversight committee on its lobbying with the Philippine government in connection with the passage into law and the implementation of the one-year old Cheaper Medicines law.
Roxas also asked the US government to investigate possible violations by Pfizer of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and local laws in the company's attempts to influence the Philippine legislature and the government into watering down the cheaper medicines law.
He said the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on Quality Affordable Medicines, which he co-chairs along with Palawan Rep. Antonio Alvarez, requires these documents from Pfizer in line with the oversight committee's investigation into allegations that the company was attempting to "bribe" the Philippine government to weaken implementation of the law.
Roxas said the documents he sought from Pfizer would be useful in the oversight committee's inquiry into claims that Pfizer offered to President Arroyo and the Department of Health five million discount cards (Sulit cards), which could have "obviated the full implementation of Republic Act No. 9502."
In a letter to Pfizer President and General Manager Alberto Mateo Jr., Roxas asked Pfizer to submit to the oversight committee the "complete documents and records of all representations, communications and positions" made by the company relative to the legislation and implementation of the Cheaper Medicines Law.
He also demanded that Pfizer turn over to the oversight committee the "complete documents and records of all representations, communications and positions relative to Pfizer's pricing discussions with other pharmaceutical companies and government officials."
To make sure that the company's US management is aware of the oversight committee's investigation, Roxas also furnished Pfizer Inc. (USA) chairman and chief executive officer Jeffrey Kindler in the company's New York City headquarters a copy of his letter to Mateo.
Roxas gave Mateo until July 22 (Wednesday) to submit the required documents, warning that "should you fail or refuse to bring and submit said documents, the Quality Affordable Medicines Oversight Committee has the power to require any person by subpoena duces tecum to produce before it such records, reports or documents as it may require, and will not hesitate to issue such subpoena duces tecum when necessary and at the appropriate time."
At the same time, Roxas also sent separate letters to USDOJ Deputy Chief Mark F. Mendelsohn and USDOC Chief Counsel for International Commerce John Cobau seeking their assistance into Pfizer's unethical lobby practices in the Philippines.
He noted Pfizer's numerous attempts to block the legislation and subsequent application of the Cheaper Medicines Law. "The Filipino people's fight for access to quality affordable medicines is now more than a decade… The Philippine government's efforts to bring down prices of medicines have been met with fierce resistance by the pharmaceutical industry," he stated.
He cited Pfizer's move in 2006 to stop the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC) from importing the anti-hypertension Norvasc from India. Also during deliberations of the Philippine Congress on the Cheaper Medicines legislation, a Pfizer lawyer was ordered to leave the session hall of the House of Representatives for trying to delay the proceedings by handing a lawmaker a note to question the existence of a quorum.
Just recently, Pfizer allegedly arranged two meetings between the Philippine executive and pharmaceutical industry players in relation to a proposed executive order to impose a maximum retail price of 22 essential medicines. The industry had opposed the signing of the EO.
During the July 13 oversight hearing on the July 8 "secret" meeting, it was revealed that Pfizer had offered Health Secretary Francisco Duque five million discount cards estimated to cost P100M or more in exchange for not implementing the MRP on essential medicines, a power given to the President under the Cheaper Medicines Law to regulate drug prices when needed to protect consumer interests.
"To my mind, the actuations of Pfizer are motivated by no other reason than to impede and obstruct the full implementation of Republic Act No. 9502. The persistence with which Pfizer has been blocking and fighting Philippine government's efforts to bring down the prices of medicines and make essential medicines accessible to Filipinos is extremely alarming. In fact, I believe that their acts are unethical and violate not only Philippine Anti-Corruption Laws, but also the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act," Roxas said.
He also stated: "I understand that your good office is responsible for the enforcement of the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it unlawful to make a corrupt payment to a foreign national for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business. Thus, any assistance that your office can extend in looking into the allegations of bribery against Pfizer will be invaluable to our efforts of lowering the cost of healthcare, starting with the prices of medicines, in our country. At this juncture, I wish to note that the actuations of Pfizer may constitute the offense of corruption of public officials under Philippine laws, as defined the Philippine Revised Penal Code."
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