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Biron loses Supreme Court drug case

BY GLENDA SOLOGASTOA ILOILO Unfit for human consumption. This is how the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) described the medicines being distributed by P hil Pharmawealth, Inc. (PPI), a pharmaceutical company owned by Cong. Ferjenel Biron, as can be gleaned from a recent Supreme Court decision. The High Tribunal, in a decision dated February 20, 2013 in G.R. No. 182358, dismissed the civil case filed by PPI against the Department of Health (DOH) for suspending its accreditation as a supplier of pharmaceutical products. DOH suspended PPIs accreditation in November 23, 2000. BFAD found PPI products being sold to the public unfit for human consumption. PPI subsequently filed Civil Case No. 68200 against DOH before the Regional Trial Court in Pasig City seeking to declare null and void certain DOH administrative issuances, with prayer for damages and injunction Named respondents were then Health secretaries Alfredo Romualdez and Manuel Dayrit, and Health Undersecretary Ma. Margarita Galon. In a June 14, 2004 decision, the trial court dismissed Civil Case No. 68200, declaring the case to be one instituted against the State, in which case the principle of State immunity from suit is applicable. PPI elevated the case to the Court of Appeals (CA). The Appellate Court reversed the order of the Pasig City Regional Trial Court and remanded the case for further proceedings. DOH sought, but failed, to obtain a reconsideration of the CA decision. Hence, it filed a Petition for Review on Certiorari with the Supreme Court.

DOH argued that because PPIs complaint prayed for the award of damage, Civil Case No. 68200 should be considered a suit agai nst the State, for it would require the appropriation of the needed amount to satisfy PPIs claim should it win the case. Since the State did not give its consent to be sued, Civil Case No. 68200 must be dismissed, stressed DOH. It added that in issuing and implementing the questioned issuances, individual petitioners acted officially and within their authority, for which reason they should not be held to account individually. The Supreme Court agreed with the DOH and dismissed PPIs Civil Case No. 68200. According to court records, DOH, through Undersecretary Galon, asked PPI on October 27, 2000 to explain within 10 days BFADs adverse findings contained in the Report on Violative Products. But instead of submitting its written explanationPPI belated sent a letter on November 13, 2000informing (Galon) that it ( PPI) referred the Report on Violative Products to its lawyers. Because of its failure to explain, DOH suspended PPIs accreditation as supplier of pharmaceutical products on November 23, 2 000. PPI, in its civil case, claimed it was not given due process and accused DOH of grave abuse of discretion. The Supreme Court said DOH had in fact given PPI due process but that pharmaceutical company chose not to avail itself of the opportunity to explain its side. It agreed with DOHs decision to suspend PPIs accreditation to stop the distribution and sale of substandard drug products which posed a serious health risk to the public. The Supreme Court chided PPI: (It) squandered its opportunity to explain. Instead of complying with the directive of the DOH Undersecretary within the time allotted, it haughtily informed Undersecretary Galon that the matter had been referred to its lawyers. Worse, it impliedly told Galon to just wait until its lawyers shall have prepared the appropriate reply. PPI, however, failed to mention w hen it will submit its appropriate reply or how long Galon should wait. In the meantime, PPIs drugs which were included in the Report on Violative Products were out and being sold in the market. Biron, candidate for governor in Iloilo, founded PPI and counted as its directors former vice governor Rolex Suplico and Dr. Francis Lavilla who is currently running for congressman in the 3rd District of the province. In 2000, one female patient Prescilla Galao died and four others were forced to undergo emergency hysterectomies to remove their uteruses after having been administered with methylergometrine maleate at the Gov. Celestino Gallares Memorial Hospital in Tagbilaran, Bohol supplied by PPI. Wala po siyang karapatan sa titulong Father of Cheaper Medicines. Baka father of substandard and deadly medicines pa (He has no right to the title Father of Cheaper Medicines. Perhaps he can claim to be the father of substandard and deadly medicines.), the website quoted Liberal Party Secretary General Joseph Emilio Abaya, who is also Transportation Secretary, as saying. In 2007, BFAD also ordered the withdrawal from the market of the drug Nimesulide that PPI iimported and distributed due to r eports suggesting an increased risk of liver toxicity. Patients who are using Nimesulide are advised to stop taking the drug and to immediately consult their physicians for inform ation regarding alternative treatments, said BFAD in DOH-BFAD Advisory No. 2007-007./PN