MANILA, Philippines - The Joint Congressional Quality Affordable Medicine Oversight Committee on Monday recommended the removal of the value added tax (VAT) on medicines.
Sen. Manuel Villar, committee chairman, said he will also be filing a bill that will in effect eliminate the 12% VAT on drugs.
"Pinopropose ko na tanggalin ang VAT sa gamot. Mahalaga ito sa buhay ng tao, di ko maintindihan kung bakit siya naisama," he said. Villar said a similar proposal is now being drafted at the House of Representatives.
During today's second joint congressional hearing on the Cheaper Medicines Act, the consensus is that while the prices of more medicines are being lowered, most people still do not have enough money to buy them.
The Philippine Chamber of Pharmaceutical Industry (PCPI) claimed that prices of some 50 medicines have started to go down due to competition between pharmaceutical companies since the Cheaper Medicines Act has been implemented in 2008.
But Dr. Eleanor Jara, Convenor of the Consumer Action for Empowerment (CEA) said: "Bumaba nga ang presyo, pero kahit bumaba yan there are still 50 million Filipinos na kumikita ng less than P100 per day, hindi pa rin siya affordable."
Villar maintained the Cheaper Medicines Act has failed in terms of its implementation since most medicines in drugstores still have high prices contrary to the objective of the law.
"Maraming sector parang binabalewala na ito. Masyadong maaga para sabihin kung sino, pero may mga kumpanya na nagva-violate nito," the senator said.
The hearing also took note of the generic brands which were supposed to be an alternative to high-priced brands in the market.
The Department of Health, non-government organizations and the PCPI agreed that the generic brands have equal quality with those of branded medicines but the public has yet to embrace the generic philosophy.
Tomas Marcelo Luke Agana, president of the PCPI, said a law is not necessary to bring down prices of medicines because the generic brands are available at affordable prices. "Why keep on harping on brands kung meron namang generic?"
However, Dr. Edelina Dela Paz, Convenor of Health Action Information Network, said prices are going down, but "still not affordable to people, we have to look beyond the law."
Villar also proposed the government should provide free medicines and treatment, especially for all cancer patients. "Isang Pilipino di dapat mamatay. Pag kanser dapat libre."
"I think we are spending too much on CCT (conditional cash transfer), if the government can focus on certain objectives the way they are focusing on that, the state can provide," he said.
Health Secretary Enrique Ona, who attended the hearing, said the government will implement by the middle of the year such a program for people who have diseases that require expensive treatments.