16 October 2012. Manila, Philippines –- After declaring himself as the “national punching bag of the week,” Senator Ralph Recto receives more blows of criticism from the civil society for attacking health and human rights groups funded by Mayor Bloomberg of New York City.
In his privilege speech yesterday, Senator Recto pointed out that ‘groups received lobby money from the foundation funded by the Mayor Bloomberg of New York City with the marching order to agitate for the imposition of New York City tax rates’ have cried foul.
“Casting malice over good work is an act of despair,” states Evita Ricafort of public health policy NGO HealthJustice. “Recto singled out Mayor Bloomberg as a funding source but didn’t say New York City’s lung cancer rates have dropped dramatically. He wants to “help” consumers by providing affordable access to an addictive product that kills? That’s hardly good for consumers and is far from public service.
On the Senate floor yesterday, Senator Pia Cayetano acknowledged the tobacco control programs of the Bloomberg Initiative worldwide and recofnized that the Philippines, being a poor country, should welcome much-needed assistance from international organizations. The Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use is an effort implemented by no less than the World Health Organization, the health arm of the United Nations system, of which the Philippines is a member.
Recto’s speech is not the only time that a politician has argued against funding for tobacco control. Legislators like Rep. Mitos Magsaysay, Rep. Eric Singson, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile have often been critical of such grants for both NGOs and government agencies. Yet they have not questioned lobbying efforts by the industry. Under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the Philippines is obligated to shield public health policy from the influence of the industry which stands to gain from the addiction of more and more people.
“We thank Recto for resigning and withdrawing his report but he needs to realize that tobacco industry lobbyists are the problem and not Mayor Bloomberg who is only helping the Philippines and not gaining anything from it,” states Engr. Emer Rojas of New Vois Association of the Philippines, a group of cancer survivors and persons with disabilities actively lobbying for tobacco tax reform.
Also in his privilege speech, Recto said he cannot see how raising taxes at an optimum will bring in the revenue that the government is targeting while decreasing the number of smokers at the same time. But he also refused to meet with health expert Dr. Prakit Vathesatogkit, former Senator of Thailand, who sent him a graph of their experience where cigarette sales volumes have stayed put while revenues successfully quadrupled over the last 22 years. Instead, he alludes that if health is really the goal, cigarettes should be banned altogether.
“This part, Recto got right: banning cigarettes would be the best thing our government can do. Kung seryoso siyang naniniwalang nakakamatay ito, ipanukala niya ang total ban kesa gamitin ang argumento laban sa tamang buwis. Pero aasahan pa ba natin sa kanya yun kung buwis nga hindi nya maitaas ng husto? ” states Fr. Robert Reyes, known public health and tobacco control activist. “Huwag tayong maglokohan. You’re either for the Filipino people or private profit.”