PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is expected to sign into law this week the recently ratified cheaper medicines bill, which promises to bring down the prohibitive cost of drugs and medicines in the country.
Long awaited by the public, the bill had languished in Congress for almost a decade, its recent approval even bogged down by intense lobbying and debates in the bicameral conference committee over the “generics-only” provision and a proposed price-regulation board. In the end, public-health advocates, legal experts, even some legislators say the final version of the “Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008” was severely watered down, while others acknowledge that it sets down policies they can live with.
But as the PCIJ reports, drug companies may challenge the law every step of the way. And with the battle now shifting to the drafting of its implementing rules and regulations, particularly vulnerable provisions are the Intellectual Property Code amendments that, critics say, legislators had apparently failed to scrutinize more closely.
Public-health advocates like lawyer Elpidio Peria feel that the IP Code amendments, though less contentious and controversial, were the more important provisions that unfortunately took a backseat, obscured by the “simplistic debates” on price regulation and the Generics Act amendments.
An associate of the Third World Network that had supported the Senate version of the bill, Peria says the bicam debates “only proved the esoteric nature of intellectual property, which makes it dangerous to be left to lawyers and policymakers.”
Likely to face challenges from pharmaceutical companies in court, he says, are the draft law’s “watered-down version on the matter of international exhaustion of patent rights, weak early working or Bolar provision, and government-use provisions with TRIPS-plus features [high levels of intellectual property protection not found in the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement] in it.” Another problematic amendment is a new section regarding the grant of a “special” compulsory license.
His advise to fellow advocates: “The IP Code amendments will now have to be scrutinized closely so that its imperfections might be augmented by the IRR.”
Read on at pcij.org.