Alvarez open to legalizing medical marijuana

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 13 2016 11:44 PM

Rodge Cultura, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Amid the government's tough anti-illegal drugs campaign, incoming House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez now expresses openness to the proposal to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

"Okay naman 'yan. I mean, in the U.S. 'saka sa ibang advanced countries, ginagamit na medisina 'yan. In fact, may mga extraction na diyan para mabibili for medicine purposes," he said.

Isabela First District Rep. Rodolfo T. Albano III earlier re-filed his proposal to provide right of access to medical cannabis and expand research into its medicinal properties.

The proposal recently got a boost following the statement of President Rodrigo Duterte that although he would not legalize marijuana, he supports medical marijuana because it is an ingredient of modern medicine now.

"There are medicines right now being developed or already in the market that contains marijuana as a component," said President Duterte when sought for his position on the medical marijuana proposal, a few days after winning the May 9 elections.

Albano said his recently re-filed proposal "Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act," embodied in House Bill 180, should not be deemed in any manner to advocate, authorize, promote, or legally or socially accept the use of cannabis or marijuana for any non-medical use.

"For this reason, the bill provides for control measures and regulation on the medical use of cannabis to ensure patient's safety and for effective and efficient implementation of the Act," said Albano.

The lawmaker said the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes is provided for by both existing international and national laws. One such law is the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 as amended by the 1972 Protocol, which provides in its Preamble that "Recognizing that the medical use of narcotic drugs continues to be indispensable for the relief of pain and suffering and that adequate provisions must be made to ensure the availability of narcotic drugs for such purposes."

It further provides in Article 4 that "subject to the provisions of this Convention, to limit exclusively to medical and scientific purpose the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution, trade in, use and possession of drugs."

Meanwhile, Albano said the "Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002" recognized the medical use of drugs classified as dangerous drugs, including marijuana, when it said in Section 2 that "The government shall, however aim to achieve a balance in the national drug control program so that people with legitimate medical needs are not prevented from being treated with adequate amounts of appropriate medications, which include the use of dangerous drugs."

Albano said, in the Philippines, thousands of patients suffering from serious and debilitating diseases would benefit from legalizing the medical use of cannabis. 

"According to the 2012 Report of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), there were 98,200 new, diagnosed cancer cases in a year in the country while 59,000 are dying of cancer annually," said Albano.

Albano said, while many patients may still opt for conventional and orthodox treatment, the intention of the bill is to invoke the right of the patient to choose treatment and the duty of the physician to honor the patient's decision as well as to inform the patient of the side effects of such treatment.

Albano said cannabis has many currently accepted medical uses in the US, having been recommended by thousands of licensed physicians and more than 500,000 patients in 26 states including the District of Columbia with medical marijuana laws. Likewise, Israel, Canada, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic have enacted medical cannabis laws that remove criminal sanctions for the medical use of cannabis. 

Meanwhile, Finland, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg, in recognition of the medical value of cannabis, have developed various forms of de facto decriminalization, where possession and use of cannabis, rarely lead to criminal prosecution.

House Bill 180 provides the State shall legalize and regulate the medical use of cannabis which has been confirmed to have beneficial and therapeutic uses to treat chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition that produces one or more of the following: cachexia or wasting syndrome; severe and chronic pain; severe nausea; seizures, including but not limited to those characteristic of epilepsy; or severe and persistent muscle spasms, including but not limited to those associated with multiple sclerosis.

The bill mandates the Department of Health (DOH) Secretary to lead the formulation of regulations to implement the Act. The Secretary shall also issue registered identification (ID) cards to qualified patients after a careful review of their required documents.

SUMMARY EXECUTIONS

Meanwhile, Alvarez reiterated his continuing objection to congressional investigations of the alleged summary executions in the anti-crime war of the government.

"Well alam 'di ko talaga what piece of legislation ang pwede natin ipasok diyan because halimbawa, establish natin may summary execution, so what? Anong piece of legislation ang gagawin to declare summary executions as illegal, dati nang iligal yan. If you establish criminal responsbility, walang prosecutorial power ang Congress. Naturally, we have to refer it to DOJ (Department of Justice) and NBI (National Bureau of Investigation), then DOJ will conduct 'yung mga preliminary investigation, sila magsasabi kung merong probable cause or wala para kasuhan yung mga persons involved so babalik pa rin tayo sa DOJ at NBI man yan," he said.

For Alvarez, it is more important for lawmakers to focus on more important issues. 

"Kaya para sa akin naman, pakiusap ko lang, mas maganda siguro kung pagtuunan natin ng pansin 'yung mga problema na hinaharap ng ating mga kababayan, lalong lalong na doon sa ating mga distrito. Tutukan natin 'yung enactment ng budget for 2017, pagpuyatan natin iyan, ikot tayo sa distrito para alamin kung ano yung mga kailangan ng ating mga kababayan doon upang sa ganun mabigyan natin ng lunas at kasagutan doon sa 2017 budget," he added.