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Health Secretary Dr. Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial. (Photo: Department of Health [Philippines] Facebook page)

Health officials warned: Big Business pressure is on

Ed JavierMedia circles were recently abuzz with talks that big business interests have given the green light for a well-funded, well-orchestrated campaign to put pressure on key public health sector officials. 

The “pressure” strategy is classic textbook, media sources say. Phase 1 is supposed to be the “carrot phase”. Here, senior health officials will be lavished with praise by parties “commissioned” to be the lobbyists of the Big Business interests.

Phase 2 is the “stick phase”. Here, senior health officials who do not toe the line of the said interests would be vilified and pilloried in media, both the traditional and the social kind.

The reported “campaign” has apparently been timed with a government move to implement a round of price control measures on drug products covered by the Maximum Drug Retail Price (MDRP) provisions of the Cheaper Medicines Act.

Big business interests in the country’s pharmaceutical sector are reportedly – and expectedly – up in arms over this initiative by the Duterte Administration.

One multinational major player was reportedly overheard as saying it will spare no quarter to make sure the Duterte Administration’s move does not get off the ground.

Two public health sector officials are on the top of the “hit list”.

The first is acting Health Secretary Dr. Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial.

The second is Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) head Nela Charade Puno.

Ubial is among a handful of Duterte cabinet appointees not yet confirmed by the Commission on Appointments. Speculations are rife that an ongoing media campaign against Ubial may already be part of the group’s efforts.

Ubial is suspected to be the brains behind the second round of MDRP. The campaign is reportedly designed to “pressure” the secretary on two things. First, that she has not yet been confirmed and that her hold on her post is tenuous. Second, that there is supposedly a DOH study indicating that the Cheaper Medicines Act did not do its intended job.

If Ubial proves to be “uncooperative”, the preference of the big business group’s interests would be to widen the wedge between her and other camps within President Duterte’s circle.

This aims to eventually get her out of the way and replace her with a DOH head less inclined to support a second round of MDRP.

Unfair to Ubial.

But there is basis in this speculation. After all, it would be Ubial who will wield the power to recommend the maximum retail price and to include other drug products not covered under the first MDRP.

She also has the power to impose fines and other administrative sanctions against businesses that do not comply with this particular law.

Puno, on the other hand, runs the monitoring and law enforcement arm of the public health sector. Based on her current initiatives at the FDA, it looks like Puno will go all out against law violators and will impose stricter quality standards – a vital move since some multinational interests may opt to lower such standards to compensate for lower revenues brought about by the MDRP.

The “campaign” against both have the same tone: they are being positioned as acting against the agenda of the President.

These big business interests have a valid basis for waging such a campaign against what it feels is a wrong government move. After all, such a move would directly hit their pockets and could affect the prices of their shares in the bourses of their respective Mother Countries.

It is also a valid move on their part to harness lobby groups in their move against key public health sector officials. After all, they have the financial wherewithal for such a campaign.

These big business interests would most likely try to avoid the mistakes they committed in the past. In particular, these interests would most likely not field lobbyists directly identified with them.

That scheme was badly displayed in the floor of congress before, earning the ire of many solons against one such big business interest which openly showcased the power of its resources in the bid to derail a vital piece of legislation being deliberated at that time.

Expect the “carrot and stick” campaign to heat up soonest, media has been advised.

The public, too, should be advised about this.

It is believed that part of the campaign would be to sow confusion and mislead them.

These big business interests are expected to make sure that the use of their resources against officials who stand in their way are, indeed, worth it!

More on this in our future columns.

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