Insuring people’s access to medicines through people’s unity

Wigberto E. Tañada, Lead Convenor

Magandang umaga sa ating lahat! A warm welcome to you all, especially to our foreign participants and delegates to this Regional Workshop on Access to Medicines!

This Regional Workshop comes at a most appropriate time. And we thank all the participants and delegates from the different Asian regions for coming together to share their respective experiences in the campaign and the battle for insuring and increasing people’s access to medicines. Indeed shared experiences, shared learning and a shared future are our best teacher and inspiration in this arduous fight against the goliaths of the global pharmaceutical industry.

The WTO’s Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health provide member countries certain crucial flexibilities such as the right of countries to resort to parallel importation in order to lower drug prices, the right of governments to give compulsory licenses for drugs critical in the treatment of diseases affecting a large part of society and the right of governments to engage in the domestic production and timely distribution of drugs whose patents are about to expire. Despite its limitations, the WTO Doha Declaration on TRIPs explicitly upholds the rights of governments to enforce measures that will protect public health and insure access to affordable medicines for all especially the poor. Through parallel importation, patented medicines can be purchased from the cheapest source rather than from the patent holder manufacturer. Compulsory licensing on the other hand allows governments to order a local firm to produce a drug and pay a negotiated royalty to the patent holder.

Since this is a gathering of fighters for affordable medicines, I believe we are all familiar with these WTO TRIPs flexibilities. The problem really is how do we counter and overcome the transnational resistance to our exercise of these flexibilities. The bigger challenge is what can our societies do beyond these flexibilities in order to make medicines accessible and affordable for all. As it is, these WTO Doha TRIPs flexibilities are merely on paper and they will remain to be so unless governments are able to summon the will to implement and make use of such flexibilities in the face of the transnational resistance.

In this connection, we, in the Philippines, have experienced last year and this year the reach and power of this transnational resistance. In our effort to avail of these flexibilities, some of our health and trade officials were brought to court by Pfizer on specious grounds, specifically infringement of their patent rights. And in our advocacy and campaign to have these flexibilities reflected in the appropriate amendments to our Intellectual Property Code, the drug transnationals mounted a huge and expensive campaign to stop the approval of these amendments by our Congress and they even tried as well to misrepresent the position of the people fighting for these flexibilities, by raising the bogey of sub-standard and counterfeit medicines flooding the market.

Fortunately, at least for now, we survived the transnational campaign against our own legislative campaign to enshrine and incorporate these flexibilities into our existing IPC. Yes, we are bruised but we are victorious even for a moment, while the other side has been exposed as a selfish corporate lobby seeking to keep drug prices and profits high through their transnational monopoly hold on patents.

But let us not fool ourselves. The battle is not over, the fight has just begun. We have to anticipate the counter-attack of the transnationals in the bicameral deliberations on the proposed amendments. It is a foregone conclusion that they will still try to derail the final approval of said amendments and their enactment into law through various means. And even if they become law, they will not stop, they will continue the fight in the drafting of the implementing rules and regulations. They may even elevate the case to the appellate courts. It will surely be an uphill battle, as we are seeing now and as we have seen in our own Philippine experience with the generics. Through their expensive marketing and media programs, the transnationals have managed to hold back the development of the Philippine generics industry despite a two-decades-old enabling law.

This is why this conference is most important. We want to learn from one another on how to counter this transnational resistance and lobby, how to press governments to remain consistent and how to win the larger public to our side.

This is what we, at the Ayos na Gamot sa Abot-Kayang Presyo (AGAP), an alliance composed of representatives coming from organized groups such as the labor, health, industry, agriculture, and the consumer sectors, have been trying to do. We set up AGAP because we saw the need for a broad multi-sectoral coalition, which includes progressive officials and agencies in government, both in the executive and legislative departments. For the reality is that we can not help change policies and enforce measures that will bring down the prices of medicines in the country if we are badly divided and if we pit one sector against another, which is what the PR operators of the drug TNCs are trying to do.

In this regard, we need to build up unity based on principles and social partnerships, for this is the only way we can neutralize and overcome the power of the transnationals. Practical experience also tells us that we need to respect each other’s spaces and initiatives and unite on the basis of concrete principles and doables. So it is my fervent hope that this conference will discuss how different civil society groups, no matter how diverse, can unite in the campaign for WTO’s DOHA TRIPs flexibilities and affordable medicines.

I say this in all candor because I truly believe we are just at the beginning of a long and intermittent fight. We do need a bigger victory. We can only secure such victory if we are united and strong.


Speech delivered at the Regional Workshop on Access to Medicines organized by Oxfam-International East Asia, Third World Network (TWN), Department of Health (DOH), Ayos na Gamot sa Abot-Kayang Presyo (AGAP) Coalition, and Cut the Cost, Cut the Pain Network (3CPNet) , held at SEAMEO-Innotech, Diliman, Quezon City, March 15-16, 2007.

Regional workshop on access to medicines
Doha Development Round Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) and public health

The Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines (RA 8293)

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