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Friday, October 7, 2011

Largest tobacco control organization reminds over 300 government officials of obligation to international treaty

How compliant is the Philippines as a ratifying party to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC)?

Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), an international association of more than 350 non-governmental organizations from more than 100 countries working collectively to support the WHO FCTC wrote a letter to all members of the Philippine Congress, Senate, Justices of Supreme Court, and President Benigno Aquino III. The WHO FCTC is the first international public health treaty that the Philippines ratified in 2005 along with 173 other countries to protect present and future generations from the global tobacco epidemic.
FCA warmly congratulated the Philippine government “for taking concrete steps toward protecting its citizens from the global epidemic that is caused by tobacco use.” It specifically lauded the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) for ceaselessly implementing its smoke-free initiative despite the legal challenges it has encountered.

“We are deeply concerned by the legal challenges facing MMDA, and the reported links of these challenges to tobacco industry giant Philip Morris,” stated the letter of the 9-member board of FCA. “It is indeed most alarming how a number of pending cases utilize your own statute, Republic Act 9211 or Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003, in restraining the execution of the WHO FCTC, which the Philippines ratified in 2005.”

Last August, Antony Clemente, a security guard who used to work for Philip Morris, admitted on nationwide television that a tobacco company promised him money in exchange for filing a case against the MMDA to challenge its smoke-free campaign. Clemente’s self-expose happened the same day that Judge Carlos Valenzuela of Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court issued a 20-day temporary restraining order (TRO) against the MMDA, which Chairman Francis Tolentino contested via a motion for reconsideration that was still denied.

Unabashedly, FCA is also quick to point out the problem with the power given to the Inter-Agency Committee on Tobacco (IAC-T) to implement the provisions of RA 9211: “The establishment of an Inter-Agency Committee on Tobacco under RA 9211 is certainly admirable. However, the present position that the tobacco industry holds in this committee poses an irreconcilable conflict of interest in the effective implementation of tobacco control policies. As such it violates Article 5.3 of the FCTC, concerning interference from the tobacco industry in public health policy.”

“Taking into consideration the historical behavior of the tobacco industry and its potential to circumvent present initiatives, we strongly recommend further protection of the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of your government in order to effectively implement Article 5.3 of FCTC,” FCA Executive Director Laurent Huber stated in the letter.

In a recent Country Profiling report done by WHO, the Philippines got a score of 0 out of 5 in terms of implementation of FCTC-required tobacco control measures. The Philippines is under legal obligation to comply with the FCTC in good faith, with some of its provisions setting deadlines that have already been missed, such as the 2008 deadline to put effective health warnings on cigarette packs and the 2010 deadline for a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotions, and sponsorship.

FCA reminded government officials of the 240 Filipino lives lost daily due to tobacco. “Such tragic loss is preventable with the help of your steadfast commitment to the implementation of effective tobacco control measures,” said Shoba John, FCA Board Chairperson.

Since the enactment of RA 9211 in 2003, at least 9 cases have been filed against government agencies implementing FCTC-required tobacco control measures. Two petitions have been granted in favor of cigarette companies. The rest are pending resolution. Chely Esguerra/ Atty. Grace Villanueva, Framework Convention Alliance’s

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