POSTSCRIPT / June 19, 2008 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why allow radio quacks to endorse patent drugs?

POLITICAL ADS: It is amusing watching our elders in the Senate quarrel over commercial advertising where they appear as endorsers of products  – aside, of course, from also promoting their own political fortunes.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago triggered a minor furor days ago after she bluntly complained that some of her colleagues appearing in these ads were actually not only “ugly” but also engaged in premature campaigning.

Some of us with clear vision and charity in our hearts may not share her opinion about the looks of her fellow senators, but virtually everybody agrees with her observation about premature campaigning.

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COMELEC SLEEPING: But who will shoot down the early birds?

Surely not the Commission on Elections some of whose business-minded members show alacrity in enforcing the law only if chasing violators would fetch them a few millions.

Santiago said she would pursue the point all the way to the Supreme Court if she would not be satisfied with any Comelec decision on a petition she plans to file against senators appearing in ads and campaigning prematurely.

She wants a formal resolution, not just a letter or memorandum, from the Comelec. We will monitor her follow-through.

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RADIO QUACKS: That news peg brings us to a situation where members of media, particularly on radio and TV, operate like merchants of patent medicine by endorsing drugs of dubious efficacy for common health and beauty problems.

There should be a law, or at least a strict rule in the industry, forbidding announcers, show hosts and others who are not licensed as doctors, pharmacists, nutritionists and the like from endorsing medicines or misrepresenting drugs or formulas without approval of the Food and Drug Administration.

Because of their following, some popular broadcasters endorse certain drugs and cures. They talk like specialists or experts on subjects they have not studied in depth – thereby misleading unwary listeners into believing the efficacy of their products.

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DANGEROUS LIES: You must have heard many of them. Sometimes they pretend to have been cured by the medicines they are endorsing. Assuming that is true, one solitary example does not warrant a universal conclusion.

Sometimes we would catch them later endorsing a rival product, after their contract with the first product had run out.

The ad cost is usually paid to the station, but some announcers and talents are allowed to solicit advertisements. In this case, the announcer creates and voices his own ads, saying whatever, and pockets the payment.

This may not exactly be illegal practice of medicine, but still there is something wrong as it results in radio-TV audiences being encouraged to buy and use certain medicines and other products by people who are not competent to talk about them.

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PALLIATIVES: It is about time the government removed or at least scaled down the tax on natural gas, an alternative to fuel and other products refined from oil.

Taking this route, President Gloria Arroyo can drastically lower electricity rates instead of resorting to palliatives and stop-gap measures like the P500 handouts to customers of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco).

Failing to force justify a lowering of electricity rates by putting all the blame on the distributor and ignoring the other entities contributing to the high rates, the administration
had convened the Cabinet cluster on energy to solve the problem — to no avail.

The task force on energy reportedly submitted proposals on how to lower electricity rates, but only got a rebuke from various stakeholders for proposing measures like Meralco absorbing the tax on systems loss and the firm buying from the National Power Corp. at a fixed price of P4.11 per kilowatt-hour.

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EPIRA CITED: Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano was prompted to accuse President Arroyo of failing to implement a provision of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) calling for a uniform implementation of taxes for both renewable and non-renewable energy sources.

At a Senate hearing on energy last June 6, Cayetano said that Section 35 of Epira allowed the President to implement a uniform tax or levy for all power sources – including coal and indigenous energy sources.

Just by using this prerogative, he said, the President could immediately bring down electricity rates.

The Epira section says: “The president of the Philippines shall reduce the royalties, returns and taxes collected for the exploitation of all indigenous sources of energy, including but not limited to, natural gas and geothermal.”

Cayetano said that the law was aimed a leveling the treatment for imported coal, crude oil, bunker fuel and other imported fuels for the benefit of the end-consumer.

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DISPARITY: The government collects taxes equivalent to four centavos per kilowatt-hour for power generated by imported coal, but 30 centavos to 70 centavos for geothermal, and P1.30 for natural gas.

With this glaring disparity in the taxes on fuel sources, investors would rather build coal-fired power plants, which are expensive and aggravate pollution, instead of plants harnessing wind, solar, geothermal and biofuel power.

Cayetano pointed out that Epira called for a zero-rated tax on oil and power. Thus, he said, Congress in effect amended Epira when it passed the expanded value-added tax law imposing a 12-percent tax on oil and power.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 19, 2008)

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