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PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE -- President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has called on lawmakers to scrap the price control provision of the Cheaper Medicines Bill and avoid giving drug companies another excuse to delay the passage of the bill, which she has certified as urgent. The President also reminded Congress to buckle down to work on important legislative pieces instead of pursuing rehashed investigations.

Mrs. Arroyo said an “acceptable minimum” must be reached to ensure the early passage of the bill. “During the last Congress, it was passed but it did not reach the bicameral panel. Now, there is a bone of contention as to price control and maybe we can remove some controversial provisions so an acceptable minimum can be reached,” the President said in an interview after inaugurating the P289-million Zamboanga del Norte Medical Center yesterday.

Last week, the Senate committee on trade and commerce said that it was planning to create a regulatory board that would set a ceiling on prices of drugs.

The proposal was made by Senator Mar Roxas II but Health Undersecretary Alex Padilla immediately opposed it, saying price control should only be considered as a final option.

Earlier, the President hit what she called “a cartel in the medicine industry” for refusing to release the patent on their branded drugs as she urged doctors, both from public and private hospitals nationwide, to prescribe generic medicines as their contribution to the government’s war against the monopoly.

“There is currently a cartel in the medicine industry with a 70 percent market share. It is controlling the market,” she said. “At least 90 percent of our medicines now are off patent but still 90 percent of the medicines circulating nationwide are branded and are more expensive that their generic counterparts. So I am encouraging all of you to prescribe generic medicines and support our vision of cutting the prices of medicine by half come 2010.”

Iloilo Rep. Fergenel Biron earlier exposed the P1-billion campaign being conducted by pharmaceutical companies to kill the Cheaper Medicine Bill when he refiled House Bill 001 which would regulate prices of medicines. in the country as well as to amend certain provisions of the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines dealing with patents.

“Once it is passed at the committee level, I will certify it as urgent,” the President said.

For the meantime, patients can avail themselves of quality generic drugs that are at most 70 percent lower than branded medicines.

The President also encouraged the public to visit the Botika ng Barangay stalls in key areas nationwide as the government, through the Philippine International Trading Co., continues with its parallel importation of cheaper medicines from India, among other countries.

Source: GMA rejects price control in cheap medicine bill