Sunday, May 27, 2007

ON THE FRINGES OF DESPAIR: Why Quality Affordable Medicines are out of Reach to Millions of Filipinos

In a slum area in Caloocan City, Mang Luisito*, sitting by the door of their decrepit shanty, watches the alley ahead for any sign of the arrival of his eldest son Reggie, 10. This was his routine for 6 months now, whenever evening came. His frail, almost skin-and-bone frame belied the fact that he was only 39 years old. Nowadays, he could barely stand or walk. He lost his breath with each painful step.

“It is hard to believe I was once a strong carpenter,” said the soft-spoken father of four, as he wiped a tear with the back of his hand.

One morning, he collapsed on his way to work. When he woke up in a crowded hospital ward, the doctor told him both his kidneys have stopped functioning. He needed to undergo regular dialysis to survive. The high cost of medicines coupled with expensive dialysis treatments made Luisito give up any hope of surviving barely a week after hearing the diagnosis.

Finally, Reggie arrives--the family breadwinner, apparently. No expression of affection was made between father and son, but the boy dutifully pulls out two twenty peso bills from his pocket and hands them to his father. The child’s daily wage as a coffee pot carrier for an ambulant food vendor living next door. The child is illiterate, his father says. Reggie had stopped his schooling at the age of seven and has worked at several odd jobs ever since.

Juan sends off a smaller child to buy the family’s meal for the night. He looks at this reporter and says point blank, he is just waiting for death.

“I’d rather not be cured at all than let my children die of hunger.” The eerie acceptance shone in his eyes. “It is better not to buy medicines than to watch your children starve.”

There are thousands, perhaps even millions of Filipinos in the country trapped in similarly hopeless situations. The high cost of medicines and exorbitant health services have made the matter of survival a privilege and not a right. Everyday, an ill Filipino would be forced to choose between pulling the plug on his family’s meager lifeblood of resources or to cling on to dear life.

As bleak as the future seems to be for the country’s healthcare system, a ray of hope now shines through with the expected passage of Senate Bill 2263, a law aimed at providing quality affordable medicines for all.

The proponent, Senator Mar Roxas, hopes that the bill would finally address the high cost of medicines in the country.

“When someone you love dies, it’s not political or economic, it’s personal. But for the poorest of the poor—those who could have saved their loved one if they had the money to do so—it goes beyond what is personal. It goes straight to the question of social justice.”

He said prior efforts to address the problem have not made substantial headway because of poor implementation, inhospitable circumstances or even venal collusion. The impending bill "aims to give life to the public health provisions of the Constitution and promote the people’s welfare."

Roxas also cited three major obstacles to the people’s access to affordable, quality medicines.
First is the extreme concentration of market power in only a handful of players in the country’s pharmaceutical industry. He said that due to its monopolistic or oligopolistic structure, there is lack of competition--resulting to the high cost of medicines.

“Here (in the country), there is only one manufacturer and contract manufacturer of medicines. We need to loosen the monopolistic or oligopolistic power that some multinational pharmaceutical companies have long enjoyed to the detriment of all Filipinos. "

The second has to do with the behavioral orientation of the consumers, doctors and public institutions. Roxas stressed there must be a continuing education of the Generics Law.

“Our doctors and public health institutions must not negate the spirit of this law by failing to live up to their duty to inform their parents, particularly the poor, about generic substitutes,” he said.

The third obstacle is the protectionist provisions in the Intellectual Property Code. He said that due to the highly technical and abstruse nature of the intellectual property system, the multinational pharmaceutical companies have dominated the application of the IP law to the detriment of public welfare.
Several proposed amendments to the IP law also include: the parallel importation of medicines, so that any Filipino can shop beyond the country for better prices; an exception to the application of trademarks and tradename restrictions with regard to parallel imports; disallowing the issuance of another patent for new uses of an existing patented substance; and the removal of the requirement for the government to undergo long and compulsory licensing processes.

The bill also intends to adopt internationally accepted best practices that have made medicines more affordable and accessible in so many countries around the world. At present, support has poured in from various sectors for the passage of the bill into law and expectation is high that it will soon make lives better for millions of Filipinos.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Miss Beatrix Potter

In London at the turn of the century, Beatrix Potter was an oddity. She was 32, unmarried, lived with her parents, and conversed constantly with her own animal caricatures. No one had any notion however that in due time, up until the advent of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter-- she would become the best-selling children’s books author of all time.

As the dahhling ladies of the “ton” flitted from one social party to the next seeking for suitable husbands, Beatrix spent her time drawing portraits of wood animals and making up stories about them. At 11, she boldly declared to her mother she was never going to marry. When her father asked then the child Beatrix, who would make her happy if she didn’t marry, she answered: “I have my drawings, animals and my art…”

And so at twenty, she rejected altogether, a seemingly endless string of spineless eccentric royals, mostly recommendees of her social-climbing mother. Yet to Beatrix, her unique situation was not a matter of circumstance. It was a matter of choice: “I don’t want to marry a man simply because he was acceptable.”

Here was a woman who didn’t fit any of her society’s norms. Before she got her “break”, Beatrix spent her days “traipsing from publisher to publisher with a gaggle of friends.” Her “friends” were her animal drawings—apparently the only ones who have kept her company in her lonely life. She defied the standards of her time and lived bravely according to her own beliefs. She refused to be dictated by her restrictive society. Despite her mother’s disparaging comments: “I can’t wait until your book is out and forgotten--” she refused to surrender. For her, she could not stop until she had finally introduced her “friends” to the world.

After teaming up with the youngest brother (who would eventually become the love—and tragedy--of her life) comprising the F. Warne publishing firm, then one of England’s most prestigious publishers-- Beatrix became a successful children’s books author. Her books were bought by the dozens, others were even shipped to then British-colonized India. All to the dismay, and perhaps insecurity-- of her mother.

And when Norman Warne proposed to her and she accepted—she was faced with the daunting task of fighting with her parents--tooth-and-nail, for their love. Her mother just couldn’t tolerate the idea that her daughter was marrying a “trades man.” Trades people she said, “carry dust into the house.” But when a compromise was reached where she and Norman were to wait a few more months before they were to wed, sadly and very unexpectedly before the period ended-- she lost this one man who finally showed her the path to love.

In her lifetime she became so wealthy that she was able to purchase a beautiful estate in the country and adjacent to it--thousands of acres of prime development land. In the later part of her life, she waged a war against property developers who “destroyed” the countryside. At her death, she donated almost half a hectare of it to the British people, in her efforts to conserve the land. Thus, she left behind two legacies—her art and her efforts to protect the beautiful English countryside..

Her beautiful illustrations, boundless imagination and engaging stories made her books lasting works of art. Beatrix Potter, according to her father, was “the genuine article.” She was indeed a woman ahead of her time. Her Peter Rabbit, Three Blind Mice tales etc. became staple bedtime stories of children across the globe, for many generations.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Elections 2007 - Light at the End of the Tunnel

At the risk of sounding cliche--a new dawn has come for the Pinoy electorate. Initial results are showing how, instead of dominating the polls, celebrities are trailing waaay behind (except for Loren Legarda, that is). I'm not smirking at all the artistas seeking public office but hey, there isn't a Sotto or Montano in the Magic 12. And astounding as it may seem, a Pacquiao will not be seating in the House of Representatives, contrary to popular expectation. Nor apparently, will the Congress have a Garci or a Chavit. Whereas if we had conducted this same election ten or fifteen years earlier, then perhaps, they would have made the top of the list in no time.

In Pampanga, instead of coming from the clashing political clans of Pinedas and Lapids, a Catholic priest, of all people-- is coming out as the early victor. As of yesterday with 42% of the precincts accounted for, Fr. Panlilio was at the lead with approx. 3,000 votes ahead of his closest rival. He is now being called as the "light in NEW RP Politics." He, with no formidable political machinery backing him, no sophisticated ads in the media, no political dynasty supporting him--now appears to have gained the Kabalens' mandate of leadership--this man who went around the province campaigning behind a wooden cart. His seemingly sure victory is a testament to the fact that there is no longer such a thing as "political norms" in this country. This could have been true a decade ago but not anymore. The times are changing...for the better. Voters are becoming more educated, more empowered about the choices they make.

In a province often called No Man's Land for its penchant for guns and goons, I heard that he-who-must-not-be-named is now trailing after a multi-awarded, long-deserving and long-persecuted female mayor in the congressional bid. In the gubernatorial race, the slain representative's brother is also leading over she-who-must-not-be-named. And I say AWESOME!

In Baguio, a particular trapo who is desperate to get back to power must be so disappointed to view his once-again, dismal votes. How frustrating it must be for him, after he made his successor's short-lived stint as hellish as possible. Still, he failed to get back the mandate of the people. Once again, good riddance. Adios lakay!

In the senate race, a quite young, principled military officer who never got the chance to campaign under the sun, is consistently in the Magic 10. This is a man who chose to rot in prison than compromise his principles for his freedom. Without the expose he made, thousands of soldiers in the field of combat, would still be wearing worn-out boots and enduring measly hazard pays.

Indeed, this must be the beginning of a paradigm shift. The small-mindedness and patron-mentality/ loyalty that has traditionally characterized the pinoy voter, especially in the countryside, is no longer that apparent in this elections. Was there a more comprehensive voter education campaign from any of the crucial sectors? Wasn't able to notice, but thank God nevertheless.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Cycle of Violence

I'm not supposed to be blogging about this for fear of getting shot in the head but here it goes.

It saddens me no end to realize what a farce our Bill of Rights is. The spirit of the law that has guided the framers of our so-called Freedom Constitution has long dissipated. Only the letter of the law remains, tucked hidden in dusty libraries that nobody visits.

To kill another is anathema to every kind of law there is but to do so in public or be preceded by torture, brutally and inhumanely--is plain evil. What makes it more alarming in our case is the fact that these killings never seem to stop. The UN Human Rights Commissioner has come and gone, his report is presumably, already filed in the proper fora/ venue--but there seems to be no apparent resolution. Peace remains elusive.

I'm constantly amazed and disgusted at how other human beings could possess such audacity. In Visayas, a veteran lady journalist was assaulted inside her home and shot in the head repeatedly while eating dinner, with her small children looking on. In a mountain village, an old man watched as his only son was bludgeoned, then later shot to death in front of their hut allegedly by men in fatigues. Later as the perpetrators watched, the helpless father cradled his son as he lay gasping for air and dying in his arms. The young man was tagged as an insurgent, but evidence suggested otherwise. Another yet is the story of an nine-year-old girl that lost half of hear head to a hail of bullets just for committing the mistake of bathing in the wrong place. She too, was labeled a communist. Authorities however, later retracted the allegation after it was discovered that the girl's height was a little shorter than the machine gun her killers claimed she was then carrying.

And so it was that we continue to live in this culture of violence. In our democratic nation, a three-term mayor gets shot in the head in front of the COMELEC, of all places; a thirty-year old mayor is murdered while watching a basketball game, an assasin slips inside a church and pumps a bullet to the head of a seated mayor-wedding sponsor, a pajero full of impoverished, weary, faithful supporters gets riddled with bullets, a volunteer radioman is slaughtered alive, tortured so brutally, the lower half of his face caved in, his own relatives could not recognize him...the list goes on and on and on...the list too of desaparecidos or the disappeared grows longer by the day. But that's another topic.

These victims--mothers, fathers, sons, daughters--are people that we have never met. Yet their senseless deaths shall continue to haunt us. What happened to them could happen to anyone in a society like ours. Their murders will continue to warn us. We cannot be complacent. We cannot close our eyes. So many tears have been shed over them, so many children left orphaned, parents traumatized, purposes cut short.

My apologies for such a dark topic but this is the truth around us. It is the truth that binds us. And as long as these dark forces continue to exist, our country can never be free.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

I am NOT a MA'AM!

COLLEAGUE: "Ma'am want some turon?"

MOI: "Uh, noh."

COLLEAGUE: "Okay, one turon please." (sounds like a commercial)

MOI: "I meant, no, I'm not your Ma'am. Magkalevel lang tayo anoh! But I want some turon."

COLLEAGUE: "Okay ma'am sorry ma'am. Uh, sorry...po."

MOI: "Pabili po ng turon."

VENDOR: "Ma'am sampu lang," vendor says.

COLLEAGUE: (cuts in)"Ma'am ako na magbabayad ung kay ma'am." (referring to me)

VENDOR: "Okay sir. Thank you ma'am, sir.

Halleer?! Why is everybody in this country called Ma'am or Sir?

Amazing Race All Stars: Why it Failed

Really wonder why or how the winners of the Amazing Race All Stars was leaked...Hope this won't ruin the chances of my fave show in winning another Emmy. To whoever's responsible-- we, the legions of die hard fans of the race, are on to you. Perhaps American Idol will be winning this year finally. It was a lackluster season but still, worth watching. I think there were other teams more suited for the all-star cast. Should have included Colin and Christie there. Would've been a blast watching them compete against Ron and Amber. Tsk. Tsk. Wonder what happened? Anyway, congrats to Eric and Danielle. At least, it wasn't Jeremy in the show.