International and local health groups commended the Philippine delegation for getting the Orchid Award during the Sixth Session of the Conference of Parties (COP6) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the official biennial assembly of 179 governments, held in Moscow last week.
The Orchid Award is given in recognition of Parties that excelled in advancing tobacco control during the meetings, as selected by the Framework Convention Alliance, an accredited observer representing over 300 public health organizations globally.
The Philippine delegation had an active role in advancing treaty negotiations during COP6 by supporting and upholding strong tobacco control measures on the issues of trade and investment, tobacco industry interference and tobacco taxation. The Philippine delegation was also acknowledged by other ASEAN countries such as Malaysia and Thailand for its unwavering support in their proposed guidelines on issues of trade agreement and tobacco industry interference despite resistance from other countries. The award went to Philippines and Malaysia for championing the protection of tobacco regulation in future free trade and investment agreements.
Bungon Ritthipakdee, director of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) said, “We congratulate the Philippine delegation for getting the Orchid Award and for its active participation during the conference. The issue of upholding tobacco control policies in trade agreements is an important one as the tobacco industry can use trade and investment rules to challenge government efforts in tobacco control.”
The Decision urged parties to promote multisectoral collaboration and to take into account the FCTC during negotiations of trade and investment agreements. This aims to prevent the tobacco industry from using existing agreements to challenge health measures, as has been done by a tobacco company that sued against Australia and Uruguay.
John Stewart, campaign director from the Corporate Accountability International said, “We commend the Philippines for supporting the decision to uphold the protection of public health in issues of trade and investment. The health and lives of Filipinos should always be prioritized over any profit that the tobacco industry can provide.”
Civil society organizations in the country also lauded the Philippine delegation for putting primary importance in protecting public health.
Irene Reyes, managing director of HealthJustice said, “We are truly proud that the Philippines made a stand to protect public health and influenced other countries to do the same. We have come a long way since COP4 in 2010 when we were given a Dirty Ashtray for mouthing tobacco industry positions. We salute the Philippine delegation for its contribution to the global treaty. We are grateful to have a staunch defender of public health heading the delegation who played a crucial role in the positive outcome of the conference.”
The Philippine delegation for COP6 was headed by Alex Padilla, president of PhilHealth. The delegation included representatives from the Department of Health, Department of Finance and Department of Agriculture.
HealthJustice and other health advocates are hoping that with this award, the Philippine government will continue to strengthen implementation of tobacco control measures to ensure protection of public health from tobacco industry interference.