Written by Claudeth Mocon
THE aggressive civil-society campaign against tobacco use paid off, a regional tobacco control network said on Tuesday.
The group added, however, that “the war is far from over.”
The Bangkok-based Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (Seatca) also lauded the people of the Philippines for “not backing down in a major battle against tobacco use.”
“While the fight for a meaningful ‘sin’ tax bill is far from over, Filipinos have successfully sent a powerful message to their policy-makers: The people of the Philippines deserve—and will not settle for anything less than—a law that will truly protect public health,” Ulysses Dorotheo, Seatca Initiative on Tobacco Tax Project director, said.
The Bangkok-based Seatca noted how an aggressive civil-society campaign caused Sen. Ralph Recto on Monday to resign his position as chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Ways and Means.
Recto has resigned as the chairman of the committee after public-health advocates raised a howl over a committee version of the sin-tax bill reported out by Recto.
The advocates said the Recto version of the bill “watered down” the original bill. Former Sen. and Health Secretary Juan Flavier said the Recto version of the bill would essentially “preserve the status quo” in Philippine tobacco use.
“We fully support the public-health advocates, and urge them to be vigilant and steadfast, so as to move forward with the fight,” Seatca Director Bungon Ritthiphakdee said, adding that, “It is not an easy task to develop and put in place strong tobacco control legislation, but keeping in mind that it is for the greater good of your countrymen, then efforts to raise tobacco taxes and prices will not be in vain.”
Meanwhile, HealthJustice Project Manager Evita Ricafort, in a statement, said: “We consider Recto’s resignation a sign of progress—the deafening cry of civil society for a tax reform that will serve its purpose to save lives is being heard. We want the government to know that we will continue to guard the fort with them and ensure that public-health policies are free from the influence of the tobacco industry. After all, the interests of the government in protecting its people can never be reconciled with the interests of the tobacco industry to rake in profit.”
Seatca noted that “aggressive campaigns of the rich and powerful tobacco industry to misinform and spread lies has happened in other Association of Southeast Asian countries, but countries fought hard and were successful, because their governments were ultimately compelled to put public interest first over self and the tobacco industry. We are deeply concerned about events in the Philippines and how the tobacco industries blatantly try to meddle in government legislative processes, with the attempts to water down tax laws.”