The Bureau of Customs (BOC) stood firm on Thursday that the almost 1,000 boxes of anti-retroviral drugs for people carrying the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) would only be released if the Department of Health (DOH) submitted required documents and paid duties and taxes on imported products.
If the DOH complied, it could have the drugs after only “several hours,” BOC spokeswoman Charo Logarta said.
She added that there is no exemption to paying taxes on the imported products even if the transaction was made through two government agencies.
“We will make sure [the drugs]will be cleared. This is a normal thing. We don’t want to give special treatment because it is a government agency [that is a party to the transaction],” Logarta said, referring to the DOH.
At 1 p.m. on Wednesday, she added, the DOH filed the documents with the BOC so that the anti-retroviral drugs for HIV victims will be released.
The drugs have been held by Customs for about a month, Logarta said.
The DOH was set to pay importation taxes of over P5 million on Thursday, she added.
If the medicines had expired, Logarta said, it is the DOH, not the Customs bureau, that will be answerable to it.
BOC Commissioner John Philip Sevilla explained that the general rule states that the drugs will not be released unless importers filed the necessary documents and paid the necessary taxes.
Recently, a group of people with HIV expressed worry over a possible shortage of anti-retroviral drugs if the shipments are not released this week.
Dr. Rosanna Ditangco, AIDS research head of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, said current supply would last until only this week if the drug inventory at present is not augmented.
The DOH also on Wednesday said it is pushing for immediate release of the anti-retroviral drugs, which were procured by the department through the Unicef and are to be released in three batches.
“Let me underscore that the Department of Health looks into the welfare of People Living with HIV [PLHIV], together with other HIV advocates and supporters,” DOH Secretary Enrique Ona said.
WITH REPORT FROM MARIS LALOG