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PWDs fight for right to 20 percent medicine discount

In 1998, then 27-year-old Dr. Benjamin Bernardino was shot by a holdupper. The injury damaged his spinal cord, a condition that eventually forced him to be wheelchair-bound. Until now, 12 years after the incident, Bernardino has been shelling out P300 to P500 daily for his medicines and medical supplies such as diaper, underpads, catheter, and urine bag, among others. As a person with disabilities, he is entitled to a 20 percent discount for every purchase of medicine under the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons or Republic Act 7277, which was ratified in 1992. In 2007, the law was amended by Republic Act 9442. However, only Watson’s drug store complies with the mandated discount, Bernardino said. Majority of other drug stores and pharmacies — reportedly including Mercury Drug, the Philippines’ largest drug store chain, and the Drug Store Association of the Philippines (DSAP) — continue to refuse discounts for persons with disabilities (PWDs), despite appeals and orders from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA). However, Bernardino still considers himself lucky. After all, he can still practice his profession, allowing him to be able to afford the medicines he needs. “Paano yung iba? Yung mga nasa ibang probinsiya, yung walang pera?" he told GMANews.TV in an interview. (How about the others? Those in the provinces, those without money?)
Dr. Benjamin Bernardino (clad in yellow) and other persons with disabilities and their supporters unite to push for the implementation of 20 percent discount on their medicines. Amita Legaspi
Since June last year, several meetings have been held between the NCDA, FDA, DSAP, Mercury Drug, and persons with disabilities. But the meetings have not resolved the issue. As a result, complaints have been filed with the FDA against Mercury Drug for its refusal to give the discount entitled to the PWDs. The drug stores’ refusal to give the discount adds to the burden of persons not only with physical disabilities but also those with intellectual disabilities, Bernardino said. Among those who are supposed to benefit from the 20 percent discount are children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, seizure disorder, and others who rely on their daily maintenance medicines to keep their respective conditions stable. The discount will also be a big help to cancer survivors who suffer disabilities. “Kapag pahirapan ang pera, kahit halagang P5 ang halaga ng gamot, problema yun. Kung me paraan naman para mapababa yung gastos namin, gusto naming makinabang talaga yung buong sektor," said Bernardino. (If money is tight, even if medicine costs only 5 pesos, that's still a problem. If there is a way to cut down our expenses, we want the whole sector to benefit.) In a press conference on Thursday, Bernardino and other PWDs urged President Benigno Aquino III to take up the cudgels for them. Among those present were members of the Spinal Cord Injury Foundation, Right Federation, Life Haven Independent Living Center, and New Vois Association of the Philippines. “Subukan natin ang sinseridad ng pamahalaan na protektahan ang kanyang mamamayan (Let’s try the sincerity of the government to protect its citizens)," said Abner Manlapaz, another wheelchair-bound PWD. Besides the implementation of RA 9442, the PWDs are also asking the Aquino administration to strictly implement Batas Pambansa 344 or the Accessibility Law of 1983. The groups, together with the Footbridge Accessibility Movement, are set to submit a formal complaint to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) against government agencies and private contractors responsible for the construction of footbridges particularly in Metro Manila. They also plan to file a class suit against the same. The PWDs are set to conduct a series of mass actions to claim their rights as embodied in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the Philippines ratified on April 15, 2008. —RJAB Jr./JV, GMANews.TV