“Senator Recto says it’s okay to meet with the industry – it’s not as simple as that. The basic tenet of Philippine law is to protect public health policies against the tobacco industry’s commercial interests,” said Atty. Evita Ricafort, Project Manager at public health NGO HealthJustice.
Health advocates are waving the flag of international public health treaty World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), to which the Philippines has been a Party since 2005. According to the assessment of the WHO, the Philippines has yet to completely comply with its obligations as a State Party.
“Everything tobacco control advocates have pushed for – higher taxes, graphic health warnings, smoke-free environments, a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorships – these are all measures that the Philippines is obliged to undertake under the WHO FCTC,” adds Ricafort. “The barest minimum would be to honor the principles of Article 5.3, which sets the guidelines for government officials to comply with when interacting with representatives of the tobacco industry. We deserve so much more than the minimum, yet it seems we can’t even get that.”
Pointing fingers here and there
Speculations have been rife that Recto’s watered down sin tax bill was too similar to the sin tax bill proposal of Philip Morris. These have been further fueled statements made by Manuel Mamba, head of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO), who said that “big lobby money” was the main reason that previous administrations were not able to approve an effective sin tax bill. “Anyone who would not support this very popular measure is subject to suspicion that he has received lobby money or that he was bribed by the lobby groups of big multinationals,” Mamba was quoted to say.
Though Mamba later apologized for these insinuations, health advocates agree that his assertions are not without context. Previous reports by Newsbreak baring tobacco industry interference have said that “(t)he companies have an association, the Philippine Tobacco Institute (PTI), that does the lobbying.” Based on accounts, “lobby money ranges from P500,000 to P1 million for every lawmaker when a vote favorable to the industry is needed.”
“The Philippines did not get recognized as having ‘the strongest tobacco lobby in Asia’ for nothing,” said Theodore Te, human rights and public interest lawyer working with HealthJustice. Recto insists that his version of the bill is “most practical”. “My version increases revenues,” he said. In response, Te says “without an effective sin tax bill, people will continue to suffer and die at the hands of tobacco. No amount of revenues can get those losses back.”
 Balane, Lilita and Llanto, Jesus. New taxes: Will Congress heed GMA or tobacco interests?, newsbreak-knowledge.ph, http://archives.newsbreak-knowledge.ph/2009/08/02/new-taxes-will-congress-heed-gma-or-tobacco-interests/, last accessed October 18, 2012.