CONSUMERLINE By Ching M. Alano Updated May 05, 2009 12:00 AM
Oh, to live and diet! The battle with the bulge rages. You’ve tried every diet program on the planet, every fat-zapping procedure and diet pills there are. But so far, the only thing they’ve successfully reduced is your hard-earned money.
Wait, did we just say diet pills? Before you pop that pill into your mouth, here’s a mouthful: The Food and Drug Administration recently warned the public against weight loss products that are tainted by potentially dangerous ingredients. Many of these products claim to be “natural” or “herbal,” when in fact, they contain drugs — and in very high doses at that. Now, that’s a bitter pill to swallow.
In its new alert, FDA lists these dangerous drugs found in weight loss products (stop, look, and see if your diet pill has them):
• Sibutramine, a controlled substance.
• Phenytoin, an anti-seizure medication.
• Phenolphthalein, a solution used in chemical experiments and a suspected cancer-causing agent.
• Bumetanide, a diuretic.
Since it made the issue public in December last year, the FDA has found 72 weight loss products, most of them imported from China, which are tainted with hidden and potentially dangerous drugs and chemicals. Among these are:
• Cetilistat — an experimental obesity drug that can cause serious health risks in certain populations.
• Fenproporex — a stimulant not approved for marketing in the US, which can cause increased blood pressure, uncontrollable movements or shaking, palpitations, arrhythmia, and possibly sudden death.
• Fluoxetine — the active pharmaceutical ingredient in Prozac, a prescription antidepressant, which can increase the risk of suicidal thinking and suicide in children, adolescents, and young adults.
• Furosemide — the active pharmaceutical ingredient in Lasix, a potent diuretic that can cause profound dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, leading to dehydration, seizures, GI problems, kidney damage, lethargy, collapse, and coma.
• Rimonabant — the active pharmaceutical ingredient in Zimulti, which has not been approved in the United States because of increased risk of neurological and psychiatric side effects, such as seizures, depression, anxiety, insomnia, aggressiveness, and suicidal thoughts among patients.
(The full list of contaminated products can be found in FDA’s web site.)
These tainted weight loss supplements on the list are not FDA-approved and available over-the-counter without a prescription, which is not to say that those that are FDA-approved or available by prescription don’t have serious side effects.
Two of the most well-known diet drugs in the United States are Xenical, a prescription-only drug, and its non-prescription version Alli. Unpublished studies on Xenical have revealed the following alarming data:
• Xenical increases the precursor markers to colon cancer by 60 percent in rats.
• When eating a high-fat diet and taking Xenical, the cancer risk increased 2.4 fold.
• Fat-soluble vitamin E depletion, due to Xenical’s fat-blocking action, raises the risk of colon cancer even further.
• Recorded adverse reactions to Xenical include: 39 cases of increased abnormal blood thinning, several cases of bleeding episodes, 10 hospitalizations (four with life-threatening reactions), and one death.
• Dangerous thinning of the blood can occur in people taking drugs like Warfarin (an anti-coagulant), or who suffer from vitamin K deficiency.
On the other hand, Alli, which blocks the absorption of about 25 percent of consumed fat, can also result in loose stools, hard-to-control bowel movements, and gas with an oily discharge. But the manufacturer calls these “treatment effects.”
Fat chance you’ll lose weight with diet pills alone. Fact is, the Mayo Clinic reports that the average weight loss for prescription-strength Xenical is only about six pounds greater than diet and exercise alone after one year. Since Alli is half the strength of Xenical, they reasoned Alli could conceivably result in an average of just three extra pounds lost in a year.
Certainly, diet pills are a big business in the US. According to health activist Dr. Joseph Mercola, who wouldn’t be tempted by the promise of shedding unwanted pounds without sweating — simply take a pill, then sit back and relax as the pounds melt away.
According to Mercola, “for the 15 percent of American adults who say they’ve used weight-loss supplements, many probably thought, ‘Why not?’ What could they lose other than the money to buy them and possibly some extra pounds?”
Here, you could lose a lot, warns Mercola, including your health, if you take many of these weight-loss supplements.
Dieting is much more than having a bikini-worthy figure, according to Mercola. “It’s about having more energy, fighting disease, protecting your heart and, above all else, choosing a lifestyle that will support your entire body and your health.”
He gives this weighty tips:
• Tailor your diet to your nutritional type. These are the foods that are right for your biochemistry, and foods that will push your body towards its ideal weight. (They may be high in fat or carbs, heavy on protein or veggies, it all depends on you.)
This is not a diet — no need to deprive yourself, no need to count calories. In fact, if you still feel hungry after eating, you are definitely not eating according to your nutritional type.
• Consider exercise as a drug. When you’re trying to lose weight, a casual walk here and there is not going to cut it. Many studies find that exercising for one hour, five days a week is actually needed — agree! Sometimes you may even need up to 90 minutes of aerobic activity every day.
Take double note: There is also strong compelling evidence that strength training and high-intensity anaerobic interval training may be especially effective for weight loss.
The safe and effective way to lose weight, according to Mercola is to eat right, exercise, and address the nagging issues, big and small, in your life. You have nothing to lose but those stubborn unwanted pounds.
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President Arroyo signed Wednesday the amendments to the charter of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp. (PDIC) to raise the insurance coverage of bank deposits from P250,000 to P500,000.
Mrs. Arroyo said the amendments to the PDIC charter are part of reforms designed to increase protection of bank deposits and consequently increase the confidence of the public in the banking system.
In October last year, Mrs. Arroyo approved a proposal to increase the deposit insurance coverage of bank deposits to deter mass withdrawals by depositors amid the global financial crisis.
The original proposal was to increase the maximum deposit insurance coverage from P250,000 to P1 million, but Congress trimmed the new maximum insurance coverage to P500,000.
Mrs. Arroyo led the ceremonial signing of the amendments to the PDIC charter at the sidelines of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) Investors’ Recognition Night at the World Trade Center (WTC) in Pasay City.
Among those who witnessed the signing ceremony were Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amando Tetangco Jr., Trade Secretary Peter Favila, PDIC president Jose C. Nograles and the principal sponsors of the amendments Sen. Edgardo Angara and Manila Rep. Jaime Lopez.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) earlier said the additional capital requested by PDIC to cover for the increase in the maximum insurance coverage is available.
The Chief Executive said the new legislation is expected to will contribute much to a strong banking system, which is an important requisite if the nation is to weather the global recession.
By Neal Cruz Philippine Daily Inquirer First Posted 05:16:00 04/27/2009
On May 4, the Commission on Elections’ Special Bids and Awards Committee will open the proposals of companies bidding to supply and operate the automated election system (AES) for the May 10, 2010 elections. That poll will consist of synchronized national and local elections. (The opening of the bids was previously scheduled for Apr. 27–Ed)
Everybody seems to be pinning their hopes for quick and honest elections on the election machines. With a budget of P11.3 billion (that’s billion!), there are many bidders with many different election machines and systems. The job before the Comelec’s bids and awards committee is to choose the best machines and system at the least possible cost. A failed bidding should have no place in the standards of the Comelec considering that there is very little time left before the elections. There was already a delay in the approval of the P11.3-billion supplemental budget for the poll automation. Another bidding, in case of a failed bid, would delay the setting up of the machines and system even more.
The Comelec cannot allow anything to go wrong in the bidding process and in the final selection of the winning bidder which should provide effective overall nationwide service and total customer support.
Once the envelopes of the bidders are opened, there must be total assurance that the winning bidder shall be able to perform the following tasks on a nationwide scale:
1. Lease more than 80,000 units of “certified” optical scan machines with software, including the supply of printers and ballot paper.
2. Provide electronic transmission of consolidated and canvassed votes.
3. Provide nationwide training, technical support, warehousing, deployment, installation, pullout and system integration.
4. Conduct overall project management.
The poll body has already relaxed a number of rules in the bidding process, particularly in determining the qualifications of the bidders. To encourage participation and to make the bidding process more competitive, the committee has relaxed the experience criteria to qualify more bidders.
Ten technology providers are participating in the bidding, but only two firms based in the United States are highly qualified to supply and manage the poll automation, according to industry sources.
Comelec Chair Jose Melo and his bidding committee are urged to look closely at the track records of the local firms that have partnership agreements with the foreign solutions providers.
The industry is abuzz with the rumor that Indra Sistemas SA of Spain is still undecided whether or not to partner with Stradcom Alliance Holdings Inc. (SAHI) of the Philippines. It is not clear if Stradcom is serious about joining the bid.
Previously, SAHI was able to bag the three biggest government computerization programs, worth billions of pesos, in alliance with three different firms. Stradcom International Holdings got the Land Transportation Office’s computerization project; Land Registration Systems Inc. won the Land Registration Authority contract; and BCA International Corp. won the machine-readable passport project of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
But as we all know already, the LTO project was stopped after the Commission on Audit declared the contract with Stradcom flawed. The COA also ordered that payments to the firm be suspended. The LRA project has remained uncompleted, and Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo has ordered that the passport contract be rescinded.
After this, the Comelec should look closely into the track records of bidders. Under our free enterprise system, every businessman should have an equal chance to get a project. But the track records of the companies should be analyzed closely. With the stake in the 2010 elections, the Comelec cannot afford to relax. It should be vigilant.
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With the increase in Meralco rates, expect more grumblings from electricity subscribers. A particularly painful and annoying thorn is the so-called “capacity fees” that Meralco has to pay to power generating companies with whom it has supply contracts.
Capacity fees are fixed minimum fees that Meralco has to pay to a generating firm whether or not the energy is taken in full. This fee is then passed on by Meralco to its consumers.
Why should consumers pay for electricity they did not use?
Expecting this question, Meralco has issued a briefer to explain it:
“Capacity Fee represents the capital cost of recovery of the generation plants over a period of time. Since Meralco contracted a guaranteed volume of energy delivery, to be supplied by Independent Power Producers (IPPs), the generating plants have allotted the generation capacity to Meralco based on the minimum contracted energy, whether it was actually drawn or not. If the energy drawn by Meralco is less than the Minimum Energy Quantity (MEQ), then there is opportunity lost by the IPPs. This cost represents the unavailed capacity fee which Meralco is compelled to pay, based on the contract.”
What if the IPP is not able to supply the MEQ due to operational problems?
“Meralco will not be compelled to pay the full amount of guaranteed fixed cost for the period. The fixed cost will be based on actual energy drawn and not on the agreed MEQ level.”
Why the need for MEQ in IPP contracts?
“A certain energy level must be guaranteed in the franchise area to ensure stability of electricity supply. To entice energy investors in setting up generation facilities, they should be guaranteed capital cost recovery to ensure viability of their investment. The MEQ in the contracts addresses the supply and demand concerns of Meralco and IPPs, respectively.”
VICE President Noli “Kabayan” De Castro (that’s how he signed his name) wrote to say he agreed fully with my Feb. 15 column that “(p)romos and discounts given to all customers cannot nullify, modify or circumvent the senior citizens law.” He was referring to my opinion that hotel and restaurant outlets that have already reduced their prices via sales or promotional discounts must still grant an additional 20-percent discount for senior citizens.
E-mail deluge. That Feb. 15 column brought an e-mail deluge. Ben Canlas, who hosts the “Senior Citizens’ Forum” every Sunday over dwIZ 882, wrote that, at his request, Noli Villafuerte of the Office of Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCA) in Makati called up the Makati Shangri-la and the Manila Peninsula. The two hotels agreed with my opinion and promised to “rectify their shortcomings” in refusing to honor the seniors’ discount on top of their own sales discounts.
To test this promise, I treated my family (my wife, two daughters, two sons-in-law and four grandchildren) to a Japanese dinner on Feb. 28 at the Inagiku Restaurant of the Makati Shangri-la. After I handed my credit card, “Senses” discount card, and my wife’s and my senior citizens cards, the waiter balked, saying that he could honor only the discount card but no longer the seniors’ discount.
I replied that before refusing, he should first consult his manager. He returned with a wide grin and handed me the invoice (called “guest cheque”) showing a “Senior Citizen Disc” of P435 for my wife and me, and a “Senses Open Disc” of P1,856 corresponding to a 20-percent reduction for all of us. I happily signed the credit card charge slip. Note that the restaurant honored the two discounts of 20 percent each even if I paid with a credit card.
Retired Judge Federico Y. Alikpala Jr. complained that “many, if not most, restaurants” did not extend the elderly discount on “take out orders,” and some, “like McDonald’s,” imposed a maximum of P30-discount, regardless of the amount of consumption. He also suggested that, to be fair, the 20-percent seniors’ discount should be charged in full to the seller’s income taxes—as was the case under the original statute—instead of to the seller’s gross income under the present “expanded” law. In this way, the government would be shouldering the full cost of the discount.
Federico H. Lizarondo independently confirmed Judge Alikpala’s lament on the maximum P30-discount. He added that some professionals jacked up their fees before giving discounts, thereby charging the same price.
Rudy Coronel supported Judge Alikpala’s proposal to charge the entire discount to the government, arguing that making the seller absorb the greater bulk of the price reduction was “downright inequitable” and that, in any event, the law did not contain clear guidelines on how exactly business establishments could “collect from the government what is due them without much hassles.”
Burger King grants discounts. I spoke with Alberto D. Lina, chairman of Burger King, during the Fedex golf tournament in Canlubang on Feb. 27. He assured me that all outlets of Burger King honor the 20-percent seniors’ discount, whether paid in cash or via credit cards.
Retired Air Force Col. Rocky B. Denoga rued that “not one doctor or dentist I’ve consulted with or who treated me has ever given me any discount even when I asked for it.” Jun Guiao went at 8 p.m. on Feb. 28 to the Red Ribbon restaurant “along President Avenue, BF Homes to buy a birthday cake.” He was granted the discount only if he paid cash, but not with a credit card.
After being told of my opinion that the discount should be given even if payment is by credit card, the fast-food outlet called up Guiao “at 2 p.m.” on March 2 agreeing to honor the seniors’ discount even when paid with credit cards. Now, according to Guiao, “the senior citizens around BF Homes are very happy” to patronize Red Ribbon.
Better implementation needed. In his long letter, Vice President De Castro said that, at his intercession, “drugstores (led by no less than the Mercury Drug chain) agreed to honor the 20-percent discount… even for credit card purchases.” I replied that there are still many little details of the law that have not been fully implemented, or that seniors find difficulty in enforcing.
For instance, Gil Guzman asked how he could avail of the tax exemption granted to the elderly. Cromwell O. Refuerzo wondered why seniors are charged the 12-percent VAT that reduces the seniors’ discount to only 8 percent. There are other benefits that cry for implementation, like the provision of express lanes, priority in airport counters and reserved parking.
True, the Expanded Senior Citizens Law (Republic Act 9257)—of which Vice President De Castro was the main author and sponsor while he was still a senator—mandated all cities and municipalities to create the Office for Senior Citizens Affairs.
However, there is no uniform interpretation or enforcement of the law on a centralized level. Consequently, I suggested—and the Vice President agreed—that his office should act as a national action center for the enforcement of the Senior Citizens Law as well as a forum to hear people who are prejudiced by the law’s wrong implementation.
Thus, whenever they have queries or suggestions, the elderly (and those acting on their behalf) may now visit, call or write Kabayan at the 7th floor, PNB Bldg., Macapagal Boulevard., Pasay City; Tel. 833-4507; E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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The Cheaper Medicines Bill was signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in June 2008. Eight months have passed since then and the costs of the medicines that we regularly buy as “maintenance” to keep ourselves “alive” on Earth have remained the same, i.e., “napakamahal pa rin” [still very expensive].
The big question is: When will this law be finally implemented? Will this law follow the sad pattern of many other laws that have come (and gone) before it, turning out to be mere pieces of papers and creating false hopes among our people?
It is indeed very sad to admit that the executive branch of government has gained notoriety for the non-implementation of many laws. This being the case, Congress might as well stop making laws, otherwise the un-implemented laws will just continue to pile up and, worse, we will just be wasting a lot of money. (We all know it costs millions of pesos to pass a single bill in Congress.)
PAUL R. MORTEL, MBLA Court, Malanday, Marikina City
A new organization, Consumers Action for Empowerment, was launched last Friday through the initiative of several health organizations, in coordination with professional groups (physicians, pharmacists) as well as community organizations, mainly from urban poor areas.
Consumers Action will initially tackle the issue of cheaper medicines, a choice that not only reflects the health background of its founders but also the priorities of their community organizations. One of the members of the new coalition is an organization of kidney patients, and their representative spoke at the launching ceremonies about living day to day and seeing fellow patients die because they could not afford the medicines.
I was asked to deliver the keynote address where I referred back to a column I did two years ago, “Wanted: Consumerism,” which reviewed the history of consumerism, with a focus on the Philippines. In the 1980s and 1990s, my work with health NGOs involved establishing linkages with the International Organization of Consumers Unions. We have had no lack of consumer groups, but the good ones have gone dormant. It’s easy to set up a new consumer organization, but I’ve been pushing for a new consumerism, one which I hope this new coalition will formulate.
I came up with seven points for this new consumerism, really intended as challenges for Consumers Action. I’ve rearranged some of the points, combining others to come up with a discussion more appropriate for a column:
First, a new consumerism must be independent of commercial interests. So many of the product reviews we see today in print media and the Internet are actually “sponsored” through free trips, free samples. No wonder the reviews tend to be glowing, with “negative” criticism confined to the most superficial aspects, e.g., a limited range of colors to choose from.
Second, a new consumerism must be political, not in the sense of being tied to politicians but of engaging in advocacy, i.e., pressuring for change in public policies and laws. “Political” too means an awareness of “political economy”, i.e., the pricing structure of consumer products. Drugs in the Philippines are expensive partly because of the high cost of advertising and promotions, and partly because of the lack of true competition.
Third, the new consumerism must be multi-sectoral, which means linking up with other causes, from environmental protection to the rights of indigenous communities, and even to prevention of cruelty to animals. Consumer education would need to provide information on all these causes.
I worry too about the growing class-based gap among NGOs. Right now we tend to see organizations clumped around two extremes: those with mainly an elite membership from the upper, chattering classes that have never-ending symposia and talk show appearances. On the other end, you have huge mass-based organizations that cannot quite get into mass media even if they are able to mobilize for rallies and protest actions. A strong consumer organization will need to combine the two and walk the talk.
Fourth, the new consumerism must take up issues that affect the majority of Filipinos. One problem I find in many consumer organizations in other countries is that it takes on issues and products that are mainly for the upper classes. I still remember one of the first consumer magazines in the Philippines and a product review where they actually counted the number of sheets in several brand names of toilet paper. I have to say I was quite fascinated, and impressed by the work that was put in, but when you think about it now (including my awareness of the primacy of the “tabo” [water dipper] over toilet paper in the Philippines), perhaps that kind of review shouldn’t take too high a priority.
Access to medicines is a good start. While the problem affects all classes, its adverse effects are directly correlated with income, i.e., the poorer the family, the greater the negative impact of the lack of access. Besides medicines, there are many similar consumer issues, with their terrible effects on the poor, waiting to be addressed. I mentioned cell phones, which even the poor now have, and how consumers are constantly being cheated with dubious offers, bad service, and high costs of calls and texts.
Fifth, the new consumerism must deal with essentials, with what’s most needed. This is especially important with campaigns for pharmaceuticals. I would hope Consumers Action doesn’t campaign for cheaper glutathione (a skin whitener), but I wouldn’t mind seeing a campaign to challenge the claims made for the product. The World Health Organization has a list of essential medicines which governments should give priority to, “essential” being medicines that are needed for the most common and serious health problems.
Sixth, and this may sound ironic, the new consumerism must be “anti-consumerism.” Traditional consumerism emphasizes getting more for your dollar (or peso), but the new consumerism will include many instances where “less is better.” For example, cheaper medicines could mean people taking more unnecessary medicines unless the consumer groups campaign for the correct use of medicines. That might include not using medicines at all. Anti-cold remedies, for example, are not considered essential; they needlessly drain household budgets, even creating problems (for example, antihistamines in the cold product cause drowsiness), when all that might be needed is paracetamol for the fever, lots of fluids, and adequate rest.
In other countries, the push now is for sustainable lifestyles, with a bias for products that do the least harm to the environment. That could interface with other considerations. For example, a preference for local goods would be not only nationalistic but also eco-friendly. (The further away the source of a particular product, the more ecological costs involved because of transportation and the consumption of fuels.)
Finally, a new consumerism must be ready to come up with alternative economic strategies tackling the supply side. With medicines, for example, we badly need cooperative-style or community-managed pharmacies that will have access to “market intelligence,” meaning we should know where we can get low-cost, good-quality medicines. This might even mean looking overseas for suppliers.
For other products, the new consumerism must encourage fair trade, helping consumers to link up directly with producers, for example, farmers for rice and other agricultural products, and with small- and medium-scale entrepreneurs.
Alternative economic strategies must include tapping into the new information technology. This might turn out to be one of the most daunting challenges, competing with the high-budget advertising and promotions of large corporations and their brand of consumerism.
Consumers Action for Empowerment is at 35 Examiner St., West Triangle, Quezon City, with phone number +632 9298109.
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MANILA, Philippines – Electricity rates will be four centavos lower per kilowatt-hour beginning next month as the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) implements a P3.9-billion refund on currency exchange rate adjustment or CERA as ordered by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
CERA is intended to ease the effect of foreign exchange fluctuations on the debt servicing of Meralco and other utilities.
The refund was initially supposed to be reflected in the November billing of Meralco customers. But Meralco filed a motion to defer the CERA refund, saying that it had no capability to fulfill the requirement.
“The commission deems it reasonable to recalculate the amount and the period of CERA refund in order to cushion its impact on Meralco’s financial viability,” ERC said in its order.
In a five-page order, ERC said the four-centavo refund will be implemented until the full amount has been refunded.
Meralco president Jose “Ping” de Jesus said at a press briefing yesterday that the firm is now in a position to make the refund since it would be done on a staggered basis.
Ivanna dela Pena, Meralco utility economics head, said it might take them about three years to complete the refund.
The ERC earlier asked Meralco to set the refund at 14.16 centavos per kwh for a period of 12 months.
De Jesus, who assumed office only last Feb. 1, said bringing down rates is one of his biggest challenges.
“So to put it in very ambitious terms – we will do our best to try to lower power costs to the extent we can. Although we know we have very limited ability to do that,” De Jesus said.
The Meralco chief said the entry of new investors in the power utility firm would help him achieve his objective.
He said Meralco is “in complete synch and perfectly aligned” with its new partner San Miguel Corp.
“I have had a conversation with them. And they have the same objectives to see Meralco improve its image and see power costs go down,” he said.
“In fact, you’ve heard Mr. (Ramon) Ang say that. We have discussed that in the Board and that’s been a constant preoccupation – combine all your sources so that you get the least generation cost for the customer,” he said.
“Although none of that goes to us because if you look at your bill the only constant thing there is your distribution cost, which has not moved since 2003,” he added.
Asked what measures are being eyed to lower power rates, De Jesus said they are looking at various ways.
“The discussion is to get the cheapest source of energy. If we, during peak, get our power from nearby plants (hydro) that’s cheaper than oil-based power peaking plants –and if it is within our franchise area –you don’t have to pay an additional cost for transmission,” he said. “So all of the benefits from that go to the consumer and we don’t benefit from that,” he said.
By Donnabelle Gatdula
Updated February 25, 2009 12:00 AM