MANILA, Philippines—Health advocates on Wednesday scored Senator Ralph Recto for attacking civil society groups that received funding from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to fight the powerful tobacco lobby.
Evita Ricafort, head of the public health policy NGO HealthJustice, said the senator should not go after groups that promote public health and help save the lives of millions of Filipinos.
“Singling out a source of funding and casting malice over good work is an act of despair… If what the good senator wants is to ensure that Filipinos have access to an addiction that is established to kill hundreds of us every day, that’s hardly public service,” Ricafort said in a statement.
Health advocates pointed out that the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use was an effort implemented by the World Health Organization.
Nothing to hide
“We have nothing to hide. On the other hand, can they tell us what their motives are for being against tobacco control?” said engineer Emer Rojas, of the cancer survivor group New Vois Association of the Philippines.
“Are they against funding for tobacco control? Or are they against how the impact of our work could be inversely proportional to their personal interests?” he added.
Health advocates welcomed Recto’s replacement by Sen. Franklin Drilon as chairman of the Senate ways and means committee while maintaining that they would remain vigilant until a fair sin tax bill was passed by the Senate.
“We are closely watching their every move. We expect our senators to move without delay because the longer we fail to reform our sin tax for tobacco the heavier the burden we carry as we lose our people from smoking,” said Dr. Maricar Limpin, executive director of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines.
49 types of diseases
“It’s unfair that we are allowing the tobacco industry to rack up billions of pesos in revenues at the expense of the health and survival of our people. Smoking is responsible for at least 49 types of diseases—let the tobacco industry pay for that,” she added.
Limpin said sin tax supporters should not be complacent because the powerful tobacco industry will “surely put up a good fight.”
“We expect the tobacco industry not to take this sitting down. If they were able to hold and delay sin tax reforms for the last 15 years, they will surely do everything to dilute if not crush a pending Senate bill,” Limpin said.
Limpin reminded legislators that their mandate was to protect the people, particularly their health, and not business interests of the tobacco industry.
“President Aquino said that we are his boss, not the (tobacco lobby),” she added.