UPDATED: Pfizer Accused of "Bribe" to Stave Off Price Control Law in Philippines

Last Updated Jul 13, 2009 10:15 PM EDT

Just days after Pfizer was accused of "cheap gimmickry" for offering some, but not all, citizens of the Philippines discounts on its medicines, the company has been accused of offering a "bribe" to the government of the archipelago nation to stave off a price control law. BNET first noted that Pfizer's Philippines discount program had caused controversy on July 8. UPDATED: Pfizer spokesman Ray Kerins tells BNET:
I can't make it any clearer when I say that this allegation is absurd. Pfizer has always been committed to upholding the highest ethical standards in doing business around the world for the past 160 years. We have an absolute commitment to the people of the Philippines to do what's right legally and ethically.
The offer to the government is not strictly a bribe but has been dubbed such by Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile. Pfizer reportedly offered the government 5 million discount cards worth P100 million (about $2 million). The offer came at a secret meeting between Pfizer and Filippino governmet officials before the nation's "maximum retail price" law was to come into effect. The law effectively halves the cost of drugs there. Enrile told the Inquirer:
... that the offer was "an indication that the purpose of the offer was to thwart, stop, and impede the enforcement of the law."
Pfizer was already the subject of debate regarding its drug discount cards. Columnist Lito Gagni had railed against the company in a separate article for offering 1.9 million patients a "Sulit Patient Care program." Gagni's objection to the discount card was that patients were only likely to get it if they had the resources to already be in a hospital. He said:
... the card discriminates against the poor patients since it is mostly available to patients that medical reps frequent in expensive hospitals.
Note the Inquirer report does not contain a quote from Pfizer. BNET is happy to publish a statement from the company in full, if one surfaces. UPDATE: Pfizer had this to say to the Inquirer:
"Syempre [of course], we're denying it. There was no intention to bribe," Pfizer Philippines' corporate legal counsel Millete Asuncion said in a phone interview.

She did not say, however, if the offer actually took place ... "It's really not true but I want to give you more information about that offer so it's clearer," she further said in a text message

So ... it was an "offer," not a bribe. Right!

Separately, Trade Secretary Peter Favila said he would cancel the registration of any drug firm that did not obey the price control law.