24 October 2012. MANILA, Philippines – Should the Philippines be holding its breath for another blow of criticism from the international community? On November 13, delegates from the Philippines will be heading to South Korea for the 5th Conference of Parties (COP5) to discuss the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). This is the same conference where the Philippines previously received shameful awards for allegedly purporting the interests of the tobacco industry instead of its agenda: public health.
“This is a great opportunity for the Philippines to turn its reputation around. Locally, the road to better tobacco regulation has been paved with a new Ways and Means Chairman to champion a better version of the sin tax bill, and a new graphic health warning bill filed. It wasn’t easy getting there but we believe we are slowly getting on the right track,” says Atty. Irene Reyes, Managing Director of HealthJustice Philippines.
HealthJustice Philippines has been very active in the recent Sin Tax debates, providing necessary research and recommendations showing how a strong sin tax bill could greatly impact the country’s public health. This year’s COP5 agenda focuses on the pricing and regulation of tobacco products, along with the global tobacco epidemic and illicit tobacco trade.
In 2010, the Philippines was given the Dirty Ashtray Award at the Fourth Conference of Parties (COP4). According to Framework Convention Alliance, the award was given for “promoting the tobacco industry through the use of international trade law” instead of promoting public health. In May of 2012, international organization Corporate Accountability International gave the Philippines the Marlboro Man Award, another embarrassing recognition to the government for giving the tobacco industry a seat in the agency regulating tobacco.
This year, health representatives are bent on ensuring this doesn’t happen again.
“We are pleased to know that this year, the Department of Health is at the helm of the Philippine delegation to this year’s COP5,” says Atty. Evita Ricafort, Project Manager of HealthJustice. “The point of the conference is to discuss health. Why send tobacco industry representatives? The government needs to make urgent health policy reforms and exclude the industry’s interests from the agenda if it is serious about saving lives,” she adds.
“At least 10 Filipinos die every hour from tobacco-caused diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that if the tobacco epidemic goes unchecked, by the year 2030, over 70% of deaths caused by tobacco will come from developing countries like ours,” says Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA). “It’s about time we took tobacco regulation seriously.”