Manila, Philippines. — President Aquino has declared December 9 as National Anti-Corruption Day, in keeping with the date chosen by the General Assembly of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). Health advocates are hopeful that the first Philippine Anti-Corruption Day will help clear out the tobacco-related corruption that clouds the country’s path towards sustainable public health as well.
Health promoters cite corruption as a major factor for the delay in implementing necessary tobacco control policies, which the country is obliged to implement under the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). The Philippines is a signatory to both the UNCAC and the FCTC.
The Philippines has consistently failed to meet the deadlines set by the treaty, which enjoin Parties to enforce stricter tobacco control policies. The 2008 deadline for implementing graphic health warnings has gone by yet the policies created to employ these have been stalled by a slew of court cases that five tobacco companies filed to delay implementation. The 2010 deadline for the comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorships has likewise gone by without much fanfare.
In 2009, attempts to pass the graphic health warning bill were blocked by the influx of lawmakers who showed up at the technical meeting in order to register opposition to the bill. Reports stated that lawmakers were given P20,000 each to give their opposition.
Tobacco infiltrating all facets of society
“We cannot expect things to get better until we are able to weed out the tobacco industry from all efforts concerning tobacco control,” said Atty. Evita Ricafort, Project Manager at HealthJustice, a public health policy NGO. “For instance, even the Inter-Agency Committee on Tobacco (IAC-T) has the Philippine Tobacco Institute sitting in it. How can tobacco use be effectively regulated when the body meant to police it has tobacco industry representation on board?” she asked.
Recently, several members of the media came under fire after their columns were discovered to have substantially similar content and form, all of which were critical against Senator Franklin Drilon and his push for higher sin taxes. News articles reporting on the incident noted identical phrases and even the repetition of whole paragraphs in some, leading some to speculate that it was corruption that led to the preparation of these articles.
The issue of corruption in the media did not go unnoticed by Malacanang. In the Ninth Media Summit, the theme of which being “Corruption in Media”, President Aquino said “I believe it is incumbent on all of us to continually improve the standards to which we hold ourselves and to insist on accountability–from public officials to journalists like you.”
On the path to recovery
Not everything looks bleak for the Philippines though. Recently, the country was recognized with an Orchid Award at the 5th Conference of Parties (COP5) to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). The award was given to the Philippines for its exclusion of the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) from the official delegation to the COP5.
“We are optimistic that the Philippines will continue on its positive streak,” said Atty. Irene Reyes, Managing Director of HealthJustice. “We hope that with the enactment of the sin tax and other necessary tobacco control laws, less of our countrymen will be lured into spending for tobacco over food, education, and other basic necessities.”