Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The week that was

Whew, what a week that was!

On Monday, we had a press briefing for the justice reporters. Previously, the Milk Code issue was being covered by health beat reporters. We wanted to motivate justice reporters to cover the subject as well, particularly the Supreme Court hearing.

On Tuesday, we had the Supreme Court hearing. It was high drama all throughout. Our NGO partners, led by Innes Fernandez, organized a lightning rally in front of the Supreme Court. They bared their breasts to express their outrage that the Milk Code's RIRR was still being held hostage by the Temporary Restraining Order. Need I say that they made the headlines the next day?

The Philippine Daily Inquirer splashed a photo of the "militant breastfeeding mothers" on the front page on 20 June 2007:

Inside, the drama continued. One of the best reports was made by, again, the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The article quotes the different Supreme Court Justices. My favorite is the description of Chief Justice Reynato Puno's line of questioning:

Chief Justice Reynato Puno for his part said the power of the DoH to formulate rules came from three sources -- the legislation of Congress, international covenants, and the police power of the state.

Illustrating the DoH’s police power, he said that if the department would find rotten milk being sold, it had the power to take it out of the market.

The Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines and Department of Health have 30 days from 19 June to submit their memoranda to the Supreme Court. We're expecting the Supreme Court's decision shortly therafter, as Chief Justice Puno himself said in later interviews:

"It will not be too long, the issues are not that complicated."

That's what we have been thinking all this time.

On Wednesday, UNICEF and WHO had a joint press conference for the Asia Pacific Regional Consultation on Breastfeeding Protection, Promotion and Support. The reporters came in droves jokingly looking for the bare-breasted women again. The AFP covered the event and its report was published by The Manila Times, among others:

Now if you've read this far, thank you very much! But the week isn't over yet! Thursday evening, we had the premiere screening of "Formula for Disaster". Over 200 guests arrived. A panel of international experts gave their reactions to the video, after which we had a lively discussion with some of the guests. One of them was a member of the Philippine Medical Association, and when he spoke, he sounded very much like the petition that PHAP submitted to the Supreme Court. Of course, our NGO partners could not contain themselves. Dr. Elvira Henares-Esguerra, Executive Director of Children for Breastfeeding, countered by quoting Chief Justice Puno (see a few paragraphs back). And then Innes Fernandez, Executive Director of Arugaan and founder of Save Babies Coalition, Innes of breast-baring fame, gave her usual passionate response.

On Friday, the regional breastfeeding consultation wrapped up in WHO. But before that, I brought David Clark, Project Officer (Legal) of the Nutrition Section in UNICEF New York, to be interviewed on the ABS-CBN News Channel. It was his most surreal interview, because the PHAP lawyer and a business consultant who's on PHAP's side, were interviewed before him. They questioned our statistics, insisted that the exclusive breastfeeding rate was 88% and not 16%, and dared us to produce a single child death that was directly attributable to infant formula. Well, I will do just that on another post.

Finally, the long and intense week was over. I did a phone patch interview for Radio Veritas on Saturday morning. In the afternoon, I barely made it to my godson's baptism (so sorry Mikael!). I got dizzy for a few seconds in the car and considered not going at all. I think it must have been the week of missed lunches, responding to the needs of journalists, and having a teething 9-month-old baby. I think it's called fatigue. But boy, was it worth it.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Today is D-day!

Today is the day!

In a couple of hours, the Department of Health (DOH) and the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) will be presenting oral arguments before the Supreme Court. We have been waiting with baited breath for this moment, and UNICEF and WHO have been working overtime the past couple of weeks to ensure media coverage of the issue. We have not been disappointed. Following our press briefing for Justice beat reporters yesterday, nearly all national broadsheets today have published reports about the Supreme Court hearing today. An example is the front-page report on Business Mirror published today:

Below is the Milk Code timeline, beginning in 1981 when the Milk Code was first drafted:

1981- Prof. Esteban Bautista of the UP Law Center drafted the Philippine National Code to regulate the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, breastmilk supplements and related products.

1981-1985 - NGOs, led by the National Coalition for the Promotion of Breastfeeding (NCPB), later named BUNSO, lobbied for the passage of the Philippine Code to the Batasan Pambansa lawmakers.

1983 - UNICEF supported the formation of the National Movement for the Promotion of Breastfeeding (NMPB), a conglomerate of government, NGOs and medical societies.

1986 - BUNSO staged a street march of breastfeeding mothers and babies, together with community leaders and doctors, lawyers and church representatives, in front of the offices of four milk companies: Nestle, Mead Johnson, Wyeth-Suaco and Abbott-Ross

1986 - Breastfeeding mothers and babies joined the final drafting of the Philippine National Code, popularly known as the Milk Code, along with the Department of Health and MalacaƱang Legal Team.

1986 - In October, President Corazon Aquino, joined by Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo, signed Executive Order 51 or the Milk Code. The ceremony was led by Health Secretary Alran Bengzon. It was graced by breastfeeding mothers and babies representing BUNSO and NMPB.

1987 - EO 51 took effect, Wyeth introduced follow-on formulas for six-month-old babies. When the Milk Code was still being drafted, follow-on formula was not yet invented.

1990s - Improvements on the Milk Code's IRR were made with the addition of a ban of follow-on formula that undermined breastfeeding as guided by World Health Assembly (WHA) Resolutions that stated: “follow-on or follow-up formulas are unnecessary because after six months, the baby starts to take complementary foods together with sustained breastfeeding.”

1992 - The Senate passed Republic Act 7600 or the Rooming-In/Breastfeeding Act. Breastfeeding mothers and their babies filed a petition and attended the public hearings. RA 7600 cited that breastfeeding could save the country valuable foreign exchange that would otherwise be used for milk importation.

1993 - The Mother- and Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative was launched.

1994 - Task Force Milk Code was formed.

1999 - Task Force Milk Code actively proposed stringent implementation of the Milk Code.

2000 - Task Force Milk Code’s resolutions were overturned by an Administrative Order issued by then Secretary of Health, Alberto Romualdez. The Milk Code’s IRR were revised, allowing milk manufacturers to be engaged in all forms of breastfeeding activities such as education, production and development of breastfeeding materials.

2004 - The Secretary of Health, Manuel Dayrit, signed the National Plan of Action 2005-2010 on Infant and Young Child Feeding.

2004 - Task Force Milk Code began discussion and debate on the first draft of the revised IRR. Nestle represented the milk companies.

2005 - The 11th and12th drafts of the revised IRR were discussed in public hearings led by BFAD-DOH. Simultaneously, the Senate, Congress and MalacaƱang had public hearing inquiries on Milk Code.

2006 - The Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) asked the Congressional Committee on Trade and Industry to conduct an inquiry on the Milk Code.

2006 - On May 15, the Secretary of Health, Francisco Duque III, signed the revised IRR of the Milk Code.

2006 - In July, the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) filed a suit against the Secretary of Health and all the undersecretaries and assistant secretaries who signed the revised IRR. PHAP petitioned for a temporary restraining order on its implementation. The Supreme Court denied PHAP’s petition.

2006 – On July 24, PHAP submits a motion for reconsideration to the Supreme Court, claiming that the milk industry would lose P9.96 billion, if the RIRR of EO 51 would be enforced.

2006 - On August 11, Thomas Donohue, President and Chief Executive Officer of the United States Chamber of Commerce, wrote to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The letter said that the RIRR “would have unintended negative consequences for investors’ confidence in the predictability of business law in the Philippines.”

2006 - On August 15, the Supreme Court overturned its previous decision and imposed a TRO on the RIRR. Representing PHAP was Atty. Felicitas Aquino-Arroyo, the wife of Senator Joker Arroyo, who was the Executive Secretary who signed the Milk Code in 1986.

2006 - In November, the Office of the Solicitor General petitioned the Supreme Court to lift the TRO. The Supreme Court denied this petition.

2007 - On 19 June, the Department of Health and Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) will present oral arguments in the Supreme Court.