Apparently, Filipinos have a penchant for self-medicating their ills, perhaps because a large proportion of the population still finds the average doctors fee of 200 pesos (about US $4) prohibitive.

As a consequence, you can get most prescription drugs without a prescription. Except for particularly dangerous or abuse-prone drugs - such as Valium - for which a "yellow" prescription is required, no pharmacy clerk will ask you for a prescription whether you are buying antibiotics, beta-blockers, or steroids. It's not the law, but that's the situation on the ground.

There are a lot of pharmacies in Cebu; you can find two or three on every street corner.

The international chain Watsons, Manila-based Mercury Drug, and local competitor Rose Pharmacy are roughly similar to drugstores in developed nations. The interiors are airconditioned, and customers can help themselves, supermarket-style, to grocery items. All three chains have been expanding quite rapidly, but are found only at malls and major intersections.

While drugs in the Philippines are far, far cheaper than in the West, even at these high-end stores, thrifty consumers can lower their medical expenditures considerably by going to the smaller mom-and-pop drugstores clustered around the large hospitals. For instance, outside Chong Hua Hospital are I-Ben and Llorente. The prices at such pharmacies are often lower by as much as a third than at the pharmacies inside the hospitals - so if you are hospitalized and offered a choice of getting your own drugs, accept and send your bantay to get the drugs from outside.

In addition, drugs can be had for rock-bottom prices at certain pharmacies in the downtown area, such as Queens or Diding's.

Note that, as in many developing countries, pills - capsules and tablets - are bought by dose. For instance, you can purchase a single pill of paracetamol for about 3 pesos. In fact, if you ask for a whole bottle or box of something, the clerk's eyes will likely bug out, and the pharmacy probably won't have enough items in stock anyway - the smaller pharmacies themselves usually get drugs in minute quantities from their suppliers. Most shoppers purchase less than 10 pills at a time - even at the pricier drugstores.

Neighborhood drugstores - in residential areas far from the nearest hospital - compete by dint of their proximity to customers, and are not much cheaper than Watson's, Mercury, or Rose, even though their services are quite basic. Some even sell grocery items such as eggs, and are often hard to tell from a sari-sari (general merchandise) store. They are not airconditioned, stock only basic medications, and let clerks fresh out of high school - as opposed to licensed pharmacists - fill prescriptions. All items, including grocery items such as soap, toothpaste, or diapers, are usually purchased via instructions to the clerk.

Here's how to buy drugs at an average drugstore. You'll begin by asking whether your required medicine is available.

"Naa mo'y Lomotil?" [Got any Lomotil?]
If the drug is available, the clerk will reply with the price.
"Tag says!" [Six pesos.]
You'll then tell her how many you want.
"Duha." [Gimme two.]
Be sure to check the medicine you receive carefully, since, again, the clerks in neighborhood drugstores are often barely literate and may not understand your accent - instead of double-checking with you, most will just hand you what they guess to be your intended purchase.
AMOXICILLIN 500mg* 5.50
ASPIRIN 100mg 1.50
GLUBITOR 80mg 7.00
GLUCOBAY 100mg 17.00
GLUMET 500mg 6.00
HEMOSTAN 250mg 13.00
MIDOL 200mg 6.00
NEOBLOC 100mg 7.00
NEXIUM 40mg 13.00
NORTEN 10mg 20.00
PLASIL 10mg 6.50
RIFAMPICIN 450mg 12.00
PREVACID 15mg 49.00
SOLMUX 500mg 9.50
TAGAMET 200mg 19.00
TEGRETOL SR 200mg 22.00
THORAZINE TAB 100mg 8.00
TYLENOL ER 650 5.00
ZANTAC 150mg 35.00
ZANTAC 300mg 66.00

Prices are in Philippine pesos per tablet. These are averages; some pharmacies may have higher or lower prices. An asterisk denotes a generic drug.

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