Vice President Jejomar Binay, candidate for President in the May 9 national elections, cannot be more lucky. He got back to the top in surveys, after sliding to second place, giving way to Senator Grace Poe. Poe’s ranking in surveys has suffered after the COMELEC disqualified her.

Many, however, suspect that Binay’s lead in surveys is a product of rigging, where the Binays are quite known for.

For instance, the former head of the General Services Division of Makati City testified — during one of the hearings conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on the alleged corruption practices by the Binays — that “none of the bids he handled were legitimate.”

Further, former Makati City Councilor Ernesto Aspillaga, and head of the Makati City General Services Department (GSD), also testified at the Senate hearing on September 25, 2015, that in “every purchase request approved by then Mayor, now Vice President Jejomar Binay, there was an attached note indicating which supplier or company should win the bid.” He said the notes were handwritten. He added that the same system happened when the wife of the Vice President, Elenita, was the mayor.

Mario Hechanova, former vice chairman of the city’s Bids and Awards Committee, also told a similar ‘rigging’ story, involving a bidding of project in Makati, during a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing.


P500,000-gift for complying

Both Aspillaga and Hechanova admitted receiving cash allegedly from Vice President Binay. The amounts ranged from P70,000 to P500,000, as ‘token’ for following instructions in the rigging of bids.

Not only these two former officials of Makati City have come out in the open on the rigging of the bidding of projects in Makati, but also others, including contractors, who have testified that they were mentioned as bidders to legitimize the bidding process, but on the contrary they were not.

For instance, Alejandro Tengco, chief operations officer of J-Tengco Bros., told the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee panel that they did not participate in a particular bidding where their company was mentioned as a participant.

Tengco also claimed his company did not join the bidding for the construction of the Makati Science High School, saying his company was not qualified to bid for the project under the procurement law.


Stuck in elevator

Rigging the bidding in Makati City does not only involve paying cash to officials. It can go worse, like getting ‘detained’ in an elevator to stop a bidder from physically participating in the process. Such was the case of a bidder, intending to supply the city’s rescue and emergency equipment, who got ‘accidentally trapped’ in the elevator at the Makati City Hall on his way to the bidding venue.

Hechanova testified that the bidder, Marcial Lichauco. Jr., was in fact intentionally trapped in the elevator, on orders of then Mayor now Vice President Binay, to disable him from physically attending the bidding for rescue equipments.

If these allegations by former Makati City officials were indeed true, the Vice President’s creativity in rigging finds no match, even among the most sinister grafters in the country today. This makes alleged ‘PDAF queen’ Napoles like a kindergarten pupil — compared to Makati’s alleged rig masters as doctors — in the ‘rigging’ trade.

Given the propensity by Makati rig specialists to manipulate biddings, political observers suggest that it is not far-fetched that surveys, showing Binay leading the public pulse, are rigged.

It has been reported previously that some survey groups are being used for ‘mind-conditioning’ and that survey questions are tailor-fit to favor sponsoring individuals or companies. Further, political observers said the conduct of said ‘rigged’ surveys did not go through the accepted scientific and statistical process, hence the results are not credible, and therefore should not be believed.


Paid surveys

It has also been reported that millions of pesos are paid to some survey groups to come up with reports favoring individual or corporate sponsors.

That some surveys reporting Binay on top are allegedly rigged is better explained by the fact that majority of Filipinos would still prefer a President who has a clean record, with no corruption issues.

Observers suggest that VP Binay leading in surveys is like saying Filipinos are happy and contented of being robbed, right on their face. Similarly, it would mean Filipinos are openly endorsing a suspected thief to head our country, and even encouraging him to rob us more.

It also does not sit well with the majority of Filipinos to know that most Makati poor residents were content of receiving birthday cakes, of enjoying subsidized medical and school expenses, and that they kept mum and did not even dare ask their benefactors how much was the exact budget allotted by the city government for such gifts and subsidies. Again, observers said the bidding for such gifts and services were rigged, to favor cake suppliers and health care providers.

Question: Will Binay camp cheat in this May elections? If you go by the people behind the Binay campaign, the answer could be, “mostly likely, yes.”


Ronnie Puno, the magician, heads UNA campaign

UNA, Binay’s party, reports that Ronaldo Puno, the great magician in Pinoy politics is behind the Binay campaign. The same report says Puno is behind the win of FVR, Erap and GMA. This report is telling us the country should be prepared for a Binay win for all the ingredients for that are in place, including the great magician in Philippine political contests.

Making public Puno’s leading the Binay campaign is one desperate, if not mediocre, attempt by the Binay camp in mind-conditioning. The report is now earning a big negative backlash in the social media. Netizens describe Puno as antiquated and won’t fit to the new systems and media.

Puno behind the FVR win is the miracle. But those in the know do not think Puno was the architect of that FVR win. The generals of the AFP delivered the votes from the provinces for FVR, not the cheating plan of the great magician. Besides, FVR did not carry that baggage of alleged corruption that runs to tens of billions in the richest city of the country.

Erap was a sure winner, and hence had no need for a magician. So was GMA.

Surprising is why did the LP not get Puno if indeed he has the talent to make Mar win? Is it because LP has no intention to win via magic?

The rigging experts of Makati City and the great magician joining forces to make Binay win, what do you think are they cooking up?


Let the campaigns, debates begin!

As the official campaign commences and gathers steam, the rigging and other similar political issues will be amplified, and may go to the point of ‘mud-slinging.’

Instead of ‘slapping’ or boxing matches, majority of Filipinos would surely appreciate sober, intelligent debates.

As the election fever heats up, this early the Filipino electorate should discern who among the national and local candidates are true to their word, and who will serve with a genuine heart, expecting no reward nor remuneration in return.

Global pharmaceutical giant Pfizer often prides itself in ensuring that “people everywhere have access to innovative treatments and quality health care,” as the company’s website boasts.

But is Pfizer the generous company that they always projected to be?

The answer to that would be a big NO.

In the Philippines, what Pfizer has been doing—keeping prices of medicine out of reach of our poorest citizens—is tantamount to a “crime.”

Deprivation of medicines is a crime, plain and simple. And the effects of high prices of medicine – the way Pfizer has been playing the game – is criminal.

Nowhere can Pfizer’s “crimes” against the poor be more glaring than in the Philippines, where prices of medicine have often been touted as one of the highest in Southeast Asia (at least until the passage of Republic Act No. 9502, also known as the Cheaper Medicines Act).

For example, in 2008 – the very year the Cheaper Medicines Act was passed into law – Pfizer’s product Norvasc, commonly used to treat hypertension, costs the equivalent of P5 in India, according to data from the Business Meridian International. By contrast, the same drug costs a whopping P45 in the Philippines.

Two years on (2010), according to “Asia’s one-stop drug resource” website MIMS.com, Pfizer’s painkiller drug Ponstan costs an average of the equivalent of P2.96 in India – and P25.77 in the Philippines!

And how is this possible? Simple: for years, Pfizer has launched itself into intense lobbying and legal action just to ensure a virtual monopoly of the Philippine pharmaceutical industry – in what Huffington Post contributor James Love has called “terrorism, Pfizer-style.”

 

“Margin Squeezing”

In years past, under the guise of “patent exclusivity,” Pfizer has been suing rival drug companies attempting to introduce generic medicine in the Philippines. Such legal actions, termed “margin squeeze” by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, apparently stems from the corporation’s desire to limit (and prevent) competition – and force poor Filipinos to buy more expensive drugs.

Take, for example, Pfizer’s actions against Orient Euro Pharma (OEP) Philippines, a subsidiary of OEP Taiwan, in 2006. The drug involved is olmesartan mexodimil, an anti-hypertension product originally developed by Sankyo. At that time, however, Pfizer exclusively distributes the product under the brand name Olmetec – at an average cost of P38.94 to P70.72 per tablet!

That same year, OEP Philippines launched a generic version of olmesartan medoximil called Olmezar, taking advantage of the fact that while Sankyo does have a Philippine patent application pending at the time, it does not cover olmesartan medoximil but olmesartan medoximil in combination with Hydrochlorothiazide. When compared to Pfizer’s products, according to the blog “Second View,” the average cost of OEP’s product ranges from P18.53 to P24.75 a tablet.

Pfizer then threatened legal action against OEP and Hizon Laboratories, the manufacturer, citing a five-year exclusivity (from January 2005), under the TRIPS Agreement and the Intellectual Property Code – arguments which, the Second Views blogger has noted, is a “misinterpretation of the current legal regime as mandated by the TRIPS Agreement and implemented in the Philippines and in most countries of the world.”


High Blood Problems

Then there’s the case of the duel between Pfizer, the government, and local pharma companies over two of its “best-selling” anti-hypertension drugs, Norvasc (generic name Amlodipine) and Lipitor (generic name atorvastatin).

In 2006, Pfizer sued the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC), a government-owned company, as well as the Bureau of Food and Drugs (now the Food and Drug Administration) over the agencies’ plans to import from India samples of amlodipine – which Pfizer was already marketing at the time under the brand name Norvasc. Take note, only import – not sell – as Pfizer claims a patent for Norvasc until June 2007. And as the government is fully aware of Pfizer’s patent, PTIC has pledged not to sell the cheaper version until that time.

Then there’s the case United Laboratories, Inc. (Unilab), a local pharmaceutical company best known for its Rite-Med generic brand of medicines. In 2009, Unilab decided to release a generic version of atorvastatin, which Pfizer already markets under the brand name Lipitor. The pharma giant filed an infringement case against Unilab, claiming that the multinational pharma company still holds a patent for atorvastatin until 2012.

At the same time, Pfizer asked the Makati Regional Trial Court for a writ of preliminary injunction to stop Unilab from marketing Avamax. (The Makati RTC denied Pfizer’s request for an injunction on February 2010. Taking the case to the Court of Appeals, Pfizer at first secured against Unilab on June 2011, but the decision was then reversed by the CA on August 2012.)


“Don’t Sell Generics”

In an earlier article, OpinYon has noted Pfizer’s threats to withdraw its products from the Philippines upon the full implementation of the Cheaper Medicines Act. However, what many people may not know is that Pfizer had also played another dirty tactic with a far-reaching target: drugstores.

In November 2009, then Senator Mar Roxas, acting on complaints by the late actor Subas Herrero, exposed Pfizer’s efforts to block generic drugs from large pharmacies under the guise of intellectual property protection – the same argument used in the Unilab case.

Herrero, a stroke victim, had revealed (on behalf of other stroke victims) that Mercury Drug, one of the largest pharmacy chains in the country, had refused to sell a cheaper version of Pfizer’s Lipitor drug due to “threats of legal action.”

Specifically, Pfizer had warned drugstores that they would be contributing to the infringement of valid and existing patent and exclusive distribution rights, causing grave and irreparable damage and injury to them.

Pfizer even went to the extent of demanding pharmacies to inform them – in writing! – of their compliance with the foregoing request to stop selling the generic drug and indicate their willingness to execute an undertaking whereby they will forever desist promoting, advertising, distributing or selling the generic drug.

“Pfizer's demand from retail drugstores to stop selling the generic version of Atorvastatin Calcium and to forever desist from promoting the same can be seen as a means to prevent the manufacture, marketing and sale of competing or rival products like the generic version of Atorvastatin Calcium under the guise of intellectual property protection despite the provision in (RA 9502) which disallows extensions of patents for new users," Roxas had noted in a Senate resolution filed at the time.


Greed and Profits

So what’s the point in all these lawsuits and intense lobbying to keep prices of medicine up?

Simple: Pfizer is worried that the entry of generic drugs in the Philippines would result in decreasing profits for the global pharma company.

After all, Norvasc and Lipitor have proven to be best-selling drugs in the Philippines, where hypertension ranks as one of the top ten diseases affecting Filipinos. In 2006, Lipitor hauled in about $8.83 billion in sales a year, while Norvasc sales totaled P1 billion annually.

As for Unilab’s case, experts have noted that Pfizer stands to lose around P200 million a year should Unilab release a generic version of Lipitor. Why? Because by 2012, when the Court of Appeals allowed Unilab to market its generic version of atorvastatin, Unilab’s product costs P26.25 per 10-mg tablet – as against P34.35 for Lipitor!

And that does not include the fact that Pfizer continues to be one of the top manufacturers in the Philippines. Data from the Philippine Institute for Development Studies showed that in 2009, Pfizer ranked third in sales in the Philippines, with gross revenue totaling P9.188 billion. (Unilab topped the list, listing total sales of P26.967 billion.) By 2012, Pfizer had dropped to fourth, but with still considerable gross revenues of P8.196 billion, according to the National Tax Research Center.

But does Pfizer’s profits really benefit the Filipino people? Probably not, judging by the company’s global history of “dodging” tax laws through business deals with other drugmakers. Take, for example, Pfizer’s merger with Irish company Allergan last year – a deal totaling $155 billion, which effectively moved Pfizer’s headquarters to Ireland.

Critics had slammed the Pfizer-Allergan merger, claiming it to be a ploy by Pfizer to effectively relocate its headquarters overseas to exploit another country’s lower corporate tax regime, a process known as tax inversion.

“This is just the latest example of a multinational company exploiting the global race to the bottom on corporate tax rates to avoid paying their fair share,” Anders Dahlbeck, tax justice policy adviser of non-governmental organization ActionAid, had said at the time. “This is part of a global problem with huge impacts on the lives of people living in poverty. Poor countries are blighted by tax avoidance, with the International Monetary Fund estimating that they lose $200bn per year to tax avoidance.”


Severe Impact

Despite all this, however, it seems that Pfizer is taking a beating. Even after all its efforts to maintain a lead, more and more Filipinos are finally being given a chance to obtain cheaper high-quality medicines. An article published in the Financial Times on December 2015, in fact, noted that Unilab – the very company Pfizer sued due to the Atorvastatin issue – now captures 48 percent of the Philippine pharma market, with Pfizer trailing in second place.

And even when Pfizer decided to join the generics bandwagon in 2010 through its subsidiary Pfizer Parke-Davis, it’s clear that local pharma companies are gaining big. An AGB Nielsen survey released in October 2015 showed that Unilab’s RiteMed generic brand still leads the generics markets with an increased corporate quality index of 7.3 points in 2014 (compared to 5.7 points in 2013). By contrasts, Pfizer actually declined 2.9 points, from 3.7 points the previous year.

Government has finally sided with the interests of poor Filipinos. More and more Filipinos are having access to cheaper generics. Such a scenario is something that Pfizer cannot swallow.

If that’s the case, then Pfizer seems to be finally feeling the backlash of its own “criminal” actions against the Filipino people.

Photo courtesy of Walweed Alzuhair/Flickr.com

Pro-reproductive health (RH) advocates are now up in arms. The Senate Committee on Finance, led by Senator Loren Legarda, has recently slashed a billion pesos from this year's national budget intended for the implementation of the country's Reproductive Health Act of 2012.

Staunch advocates of RH have loudly protested the Senate committee's decision—which removed 86% of the total RH appropriations for this year — claiming that it would deny the country's marginalized sector access to contraceptives and other RH services.

"It's an ordinate bad impact. Because the law provides that the state is mandated to give universal access to family planning and product services ... ang tinamaan dito ang marginalized sector," Congressman Edcel Lagman, a staunch RH advocate, told media on January 12.

He may have meant well, but his comments are way off track, because it's not the marginalized sector that will take a beating from the reduced RH budget, but the country's multimillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry, which had allegedly lobbied intensely for the passage of the RH Law.


Intense RH lobbying

In 2011, during the heat of the debates for the RH Law, Senator Vicente "Tito" Sotto III revealed what he called a “strong lobby” backed by big multinational drug companies or aptly called “Big Pharma” and certain “personalities” that were working for the enactment of the controversial bill. While not specifying any names, he identified them as the “pharmaceutical groups, population control groups and family planning groups.”

But why would “Big Pharma” involve itself in such an issue? Part of the answer was later provided by Joey Natividad, special correspondent for the local newspaper Bicol Today.

In an entry posted on the newspaper's website on December 17, 2012, Natividad hinted that global pharmaceutical companies operating in the Philippines stood to rake in billions of dollars worth of sales due to the sale of contraceptives, condoms, and "abortficact-associated" drugs for the next 50 years following the passage of the RH Law. And how they are able to do it? Simple, Natividad noted: by forming a well-funded group in the 1960's to promote the so-called "population-control" agenda.

"Using several fronts, and hiding behind these issues, such as pro-Choice movements, women’s' sexual rights, family-planning, responsible parenthood, population explosion and fear of global poverty and famine, ... the lobby has succeeded in convincing the United Nations, the United States, and other European governments in adopting the population issue as part of their 'international development assistance package' when providing aid/grants through Third World governments," Natividad wrote.
Through intense lobbying, "Big Pharma" has succeeded not only in countering the stance of the Roman Catholic Church, which had vociferously spoken against the RH law, including progressive groups that had maintained anti-imperialist and anti-big business stance through the decades.

“’It’s either the ‘left’ was mislead [sic] into accepting that the proposed RH law is beneficial development, or the Left was neutralized by the Lobby’… [through] grants and donations from pro-lobby international funding agencies under the name of ‘women’s right groups,’ ‘pro-people development programs’, and other popular people’s movements,” Natividad speculated.


Long history

The RH Law is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

For decades now, "Big Pharma" in the Philippines has led several campaigns to effectively block any government move or policy that could prove inimical to their interest — often, with the help of the United States government.

Take, for example, the case of pharma companies' lobbying against revisions to the Milk Code in the Philippines, stemming back from 2005. At that time, government officials, particularly the Department of Health, were in the process of drafting the implementing rules and regulations of the Milk Code, which would effectively regulate the sale and advertising of infant milk formula in the Philippines.

Alarmed, "Big Pharma" (led by Nestle and other infant-formula makers) allegedly used the United States embassy in Manila to "convince" the government to rescind some "controversial" provisions of the IRRs, anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks charged in the form of a US Embassy cable released by the group in 2011.

In the form of talks with then DOH Undersecretary Alex Padilla and the embassy's economic counselor (which was not named), the pharma lobby was able to pressure the government into removing several provisions in the bill, including a provision that would prohibit using brand names and company logos for infant formula, as well as requiring prescriptions for infant formula products, WikiLeaks claimed. (In an ironic twist, the cable accused the DOH of being "under pressure" from "an influential breastfeeding lobby group" close to Malacañang.)

The maneuvers were allegedly spearheaded by the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines, due to concerns about the proposed IRR's negative impact to the milk industry. The move was apparently caused by a quick study PHAP had done at the time, which revealed that the market penetration rate for infant formula in the country is only around nine percent, reflecting the low level of infant formula use.

However, even revisions to the IRR can't seem to mollify "Big Pharma." In 2006, PHAP sued DOH officials who had signed the revised IRRs, asking the courts to rescind the rules as "unconstitutional." A year later, in 2007, the Supreme Court upheld all, but two of the IRR's in the Milk Code — that of banning the advertising and sponsorship of milk formula, and another one on administrative sanctions.


Different tack

Having met with little favor in the courts, "Big Pharma" has decided to change tactics, this time bordering on what some critics had called "economic blackmail" in the form of trade-offs and investments in exchange for policies favorable to international pharmaceutical companies.

No more could this be glaring than in the case of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which had intensely lobbied against the passage of the Cheaper Medicines Act (Republic Act 9502) in 2008.

No less than former DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, one of the principal authors of the Cheaper Medicines Act, has revealed Pfizer's blatant attempts to halt the passage of the law through what he calls "unethical" lobbying practices in 2009.

At one point, then Senator Roxas revealed that Pfizer allegedly "bribed" the DOH and the government by offering five million discount cards (called "Sulit" cards), estimated to cost at least P100 million, in exchange for not implementing the maximum retail price (MRP) on essential medicines.

Also, during deliberations for the Cheaper Medicines Act, a Pfizer lawyer was reportedly ordered to leave the session hall at the House of Representatives after trying to delay the proceedings "by handing a lawmaker a note to question the existence of a quorum," the former senator also said during that time.

Roxas' claims were later substantiated by a series of cables allegedly sent by the US Embassy from September 2005 to January 2010 and released by the website Knowledge Ecology International, which showed that the US government - "in close cooperation with Pfizer" - had intensely lobbied to amend certain provisions of the Cheaper Medicines Act due to intellectual property rights issues.

The cables had noted US IPR rights holders’ (read: “Big Pharma”) concerns that Roxas’ move to amend the Intellectual Property Code with respect to patents and parallel imports for pharmaceuticals could spell trouble for rights holders who are trying to retain their market share and profitability in the country.

The cables also detailed several meetings by US officials to Philippine lawmakers who had sponsored the Cheaper Medicines Act “to lobby for the removal” of the two provisions of concern.

One particular cable sent by the US Embassy (March 5, 2009) practically passed along warnings (read: threats) by Pfizer to withdraw its products upon the full implementation of the Cheaper Medicines Act.

“Pfizer’s withdrawal of medicines from Thailand following laws on compulsory licensing clearly demonstrates the risks. Post will continue to remind Health Department officials that expecting pharmaceutical companies to sell products for less than it costs to produce them could prove counterproductive,” the cable had warned.


Desperate?

Such moves are reportedly due to concerns about the entry of numerous Indian drug companies in the local market, which at the time of the passage of the Cheaper Medicines Act comprise an estimated $8 billion industry and growing at the rate of 7.7% annually. The Indian drug industry at the time currently ranks 3rd in terms of volume of production with a 10% share of the global pharmaceutical market, and 14th in value.

More recently, PHAP acknowledged that even as the pharmaceutical industry in the Philippines is expected to grow by 4.5% annually over the next five years, generic medicines (as opposed to branded ones) are now becoming more prevalent in the Philippine market.

A report prepared by IMS Consulting for PHAP and released last August showed that generic products now account for 65% of the total drug market in the Philippines, while “originator” products account for rest (35%).

As most (80% to 90%) essential medicines are now off-patent, Filipino consumers now have cheaper and more affordable options – an anathema to big pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer.

It’s no wonder that “Big Pharma,” facing a global backlash and diminishing profits, have thrown in its total support for the RH Bill in the hope of recouping their losses. The Senate Committee’s decision to slash the budget of the RH Law must have been a very bitter pill for pharma companies to swallow, to say the least.

There’s one good thing, though: Sen. Legarda has stayed put on the issue of the Senate Committee on Finance decision, pointing out that the P1 billion would be put into more remunerative use for national development.

“The cut of one billion pesos...was a source for the increases in other agencies, including for the Department of National Defense's (DND) air assets upgrading, which is timely and equally important given the West Philippine Sea issue. Part of it was also used for the increase in the state universities and colleges (SUCs) budget. A portion of the one billion was realigned within DOH to provide for the health facilities and medical assistance to indigent patients,” Sen. Legarda declared on January 8.

She also said that the DOH had used only 29% of its P3.27-billion budget for its RH program and could still use the remaining 71% to augment deficient resources.

As the debate between Sen. Legarda and Sen. Sotto on one hand, and Sen. Pia Cayetano and the pharma lobby on the other hand, rages, should the Philippine government bow down to the dictates of ‘Big Phama’ interests?

Photo courtesy of Gigie Cruz/Wordpress.com

By Rosemarie Señora

Everyone wants clean air!

Metro Manilans, in particular, have since been longing for it.

There’s a bit of good news, as in the succeeding months, the quality of air pollution in Metro Manila is expected to improve.

Government through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will start enforcing the Clean Air Act of 1999 (or Republic Act No. 8749) that requires oil companies to sell cleaner fuel products and imposing use of Euro4 fuel on all motor vehicles.

“Around 80 percent of air pollution in the country comes from mobile sources. With oil retailers required to sell only Euro 4 fuels, vehicles would now have cleaner emissions and thus, we can expect cleaner air,” Environment Secretary Ramon J.P Paje said.

Seventy to 80% of air pollution in Metro Manila is contributed by motor vehicles, while the remaining 20% to 30% comes from industrial emissions, construction activities and unpaved, dirt roads.


2.5 vehicles in MM, and counting

The bad news is the number of motor vehicles in Metro Manila is not waning, but increasing. Hence, more traffic and more pollution.

In 2015, the Land Transportation Office (LTO) said the total number of motor vehicles in Metro Manila has already peaked at 2.5 million, which is more than the 2.1 million vehicles registered in all of NCR, and comprises one-third of all registered vehicles in the country, at 7.69 million.

With millions of vehicles on MM roads every day, it is not far-fetched that cases of respiratory diseases would likewise increase.

Pollution caused by motor vehicles invariably causes major respiratory and heart diseases, which claim 3.2 million deaths worldwide every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Hence, the government and the private sector have to jointly implement measures to limit the number of motor vehicles in Metro Manila, not only to minimize the huge traffic every day, but more importantly to lessen air pollution.


Euro 4 benefits

Prior to Euro 4, the country has been following the Euro 2 standards for motor vehicles. Euro 4 has only 50 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur, one per cent benzene, and a 35% limit on aromatics. On the other hand, Euro 2 has 500 ppm sulfur, 5% benzene, and no limit on aromatics.

The elements and compounds in fuels like sulfur pose cardiovascular and pulmonary illnesses, especially among children and the elderly, and could even result in death. Likewise, exposure to benzene could lead to blood and bone diseases like anemia and leukemia.

While the Philippines has yet to use Euro 4 standards, other countries — like Australia, Singapore and South Korea — are already implementing the Euro 5 and Euro 6 emission standards, which have lower sulfur levels.

With Euro 4 fuels, the public will benefit not only from cleaner air, but also vehicle owners, as the lower sulfur content minimizes engine corrosion, and the vehicles become more fuel-efficient, and hence gain more mileage.


Pollutants, particulates

In a health forum held last year in Quezon City, DENR-EMB assistant director Eva Ocfemia said the air pollutant concentration in the National Capital Region has reached 130 micrograms per normal cubic meter (µg/Ncm), in terms of total suspended particulates (TSP), up by 22.6% from 106 µg/Ncm in December 2014.

Particulates are tiny airborne particles or aerosols that are less than 100 micrometers. Their sources include soil, bacteria and viruses, fungi, molds and yeast, pollen, combustion products from space heating, industrial processes, power generation, and motor vehicle use.

The 130 µg/Ncm in 2015 is considerably higher than the maximum safe level of air pollutant concentration, at only 90 µg/Ncm, but Ocfemia said that the air quality situation in NCR is generally considered “fair,” as it still within the air quality index, ranging from 55 to 154 µg/Ncm.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the aerosols – including gases emitted from motor vehicles – are very tiny and they are easily inhaled and even absorbed by our blood stream. They subsequently cause lung diseases such as bronchitis, bronchial asthma and emphysema, as well as high blood pressure and common heart diseases.

While the Philippines was not in the Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland’s list of the “10 most polluted cities in 2013,” a WHO expert said the country will soon be joining that list, if nothing is done to improve the quality of air in Metro Manila.


Government efforts

The public is looking forward to breathing cleaner air starting this year, as the DENR and other concerned government will implement the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 or RA 8749, aimed at reducing air pollution and ensuring environmental protection. The law relies heavily on the “polluter pays” principle and other market-based instruments to promote self-regulation among vehicle owners, industry and construction, and the general public.

RA 8749 sets emission standards for all motor vehicles, and issues registration only upon demonstration of compliance. It also issues pollutant limitations for industry. Polluting vehicles and industrial processes must pay a charge.

The law also provides benefits to those who will comply.

For instance, individuals, enterprises, corporations or groups that will install pollution control devices or retrofit their existing facilities to comply with the emissions standards will enjoy tax incentives, accelerated depreciation, deduction of R&D expenditures or tax credits on the VAT of the equipment, exempted from payment of real property taxes on their machinery or equipment.

It also establishes a rehabilitation and development program for air pollution reduction mechanisms and technologies. It also bans incineration and smoking in public places.

At the local and municipal levels, LGUs are allowed to set emission quotas by pollution source, and develop their respective recycling programs.

The DENR, LTO and LGUs have been apprehending and fining air polluters — whether these are industries, small businesses, and most especially motorists driving smoke-belching vehicles.

The Air Quality Management Bureau said it is working with the LTO in tracking and taking smoke belchers off the streets. Fines range from P2,000 to P5,000 for the first two offenses, for the third offense, P6,000-fine plus one-year license suspension. For bus operators, violations mean one-year cancellation of their franchise permit.


Electrification as alternative

One of the measures to help improve the quality of air in Metro Manila and in other areas in the country is the use electric vehicles, which are 100% pollution-free and eco-friendly.

Compared to normal motor vehicles, e-vehicles do not emit toxic gases or smoke as it runs on clean energy source. They are even better than hybrid cars, as hybrids also run on gas.

As early as 2007, the Institute of Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), a non-governmental organization, has introduced e-Jeepney in the Philippines, making the country as one of the pioneers in EV transport system in Asia.

ICSC first acquired 20 locally-assembled units of e-Jeepney to travel in the Makati green routes (MGR), along Salcedo and Legaspi villages. MGR also achieved two other milestones: the first e-Jeepneys to have the special orange electric vehicle license plates from the Land Transportation Office (LTO); and the first 4-wheeled EV project to get a public transport franchise from the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

 

Citizen’s participation

It will take a concerted and united effort among stakeholders to achieve cleaner air in Metro Manila.

The government and private sector cannot do it alone.

Every citizen should contribute his or her own share.

They can practice simple steps to minimize pollution:

"They can exercise carpooling para ma-minimize yung traffic and smoke belching. Or they can use bicycles. May bicycle lanes naman tayo ngayon. And siguro, ensure that their vehicles are in good condition," said Undersecretary Jonas Leones, director of the DENR-Environmental Management Bureau, which is the lead implementing agency of the Clean Air Act.

DENR Secretary Paje urges vehicle owners to patronize oil companies selling Euro 4 fuels. “It does not matter whether your car is old or new. Your emission matters more for us to achieve cleaner air,” he stressed.

However, the environment chief said vehicle owners should not only depend on cleaner fuel, but also ensure their cars undergo regular maintenance or checkup.

 

Dr. Milagros Ong-How. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Star

By Rosemarie Señora

A lot can be learned from multi-awarded agri-entrepreneur and philanthropist Dr. Milagros Ong-How. She has successfully shown how perseverance with a vision pays in the long run.

Using her experience in managing a business enterprise and education in handling chemicals, Dr. How vowed to help farmers uplift their standard of living. In 2003, she started Universal Harvester Inc. (UHI) — a company engaged in large-scale manufacturing, distribution and export of world class fertilizers. It is through UHI, the biggest of its kind in the country, that she heeded the government’s call to revitalize the local dairy industry with the establishment of a 500-hectare cattle farm in Brgy. San Miguel, Maramag, Bukidnon.

Most Filipino farmers are hesitant to go into dairy production despite encouragement from the government, as dairy farming requires more resources to start and sustain operations compared to other agricultural ventures. Such hesitance and challenge have stymied the growth of the local dairy industry.

Currently, local fresh milk production is at a measly three percent, and the huge supply gap is augmented by imports, consisting mostly of powdered and reconstituted milk.

The National Dairy Authority (NDA), the lead agency of the Department of Agriculture overseeing the development of the country’s dairy industry, however cited an increasing local fresh milk production, from 14.41 million liters in 2009 which more than doubled to 37.02 million liters in 2014.

Realizing agriculture is where her heart and her business acumen truly belong, Dr. How led the pursuit of more income and job-generating ventures outside of her flagship fertilizer business.

“We want to do our share in helping the industry increase the country’s capability to supply its own dairy requirement. We want dairy farmers to improve their income-earning capability and open up various opportunities to the people here in Bukidnon,” she said.


The Beneficiaries

Dr. How said farmer cooperatives and associations are the target beneficiaries of the business, allowing them to work in the farm and subsequently market their produce for a neat profit.

The UHI farm, envisioned as both a milk-producing and large-scale milk processing facility, imported around 500 artificially-inseminated Holstein for dairy production and since October last year, dozens of calves were already born.

The challenges that the project faced when it was starting out — like water supply, logistics, and even supposed demand letters from the New People’s Army that turned out to be fake — are nothing new to her, who as a student at the University of the Philippines in the early 1970s, ventured into the chemical business to help her widowed mother raise seven children.

“I was already helping my mother, when I was still in college. She needed me because my father died when I was just 11 years old. I dealt with the small market that needed ammonia like those in refrigeration and cold storage,” says Dr. How, who once dreamt of becoming a doctor.

UHI applied modern technology with local and international experts acting as consultants and partners in putting up and sustaining the dairy farm, likewise using best practices in dairy farming from local and foreign models. Her company also spearheaded the TOFARM Awards – a yearly search undertaken with JCI Philippines to promote best practices in agriculture.

Besides the production of fresh milk, plans to develop by-products such as cheese, yogurt, ice cream and others are next in line to realize the full potential of the dairy farm.


Recognizing farmers

Farmers and the agriculture sector, according to her, have to be recognized as they play “the most crucial role in our survival as a people, and hold the key to our collective health, wealth and progress as a nation.”

“It makes me sad to hear that many of today’s generation are no longer interested to till the land of their fathers, or to pursue their family livelihood in agriculture. Instead, most want to pursue city jobs or become doctors, lawyers and engineers. But as our national hero Jose Rizal said, not all can be doctors. Some will have to stay and cultivate the land,” Dr. How said. “This is why our mission and vision is to make agriculture attractive for the next generations and for the entire country once again.”

The Philippines needs Dr. How and many more who share her vision and mission to attain government’s goal of attaining self-sufficiency in milk.

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