The Philippines received unwanted attention from the international community after the Network for the Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT), a collective of over 100 organizations spanning 50 countries, and Corporate Accountability International, a non-profit organization with over 100,000 individual members world-wide, gave the Philippines’ Inter-agency Committee – Tobacco (IAC-T) a “Marlboro Man” award. The said award is given annually to government agencies perceived to have been compromised by and to have been furthering tobacco industry interests.
The IAC-T is the multi-agency committee responsible for the implementation of the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003. NATT questions the committee membership of Philippine Tobacco Institute, a trade association known to aggressively promote tobacco industry interests.
“Activists around the world are calling on tobacco corporations to butt out of public policymaking,” said Gigi Kellett, Challenge Big Tobacco campaign director.
This isn’t the first time that the Philippines has received recognition for subverting public health interests in tobacco control.
In 2010, the Philippine delegation to the 4th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) was given a “Dirty Ashtray” award by international group Framework Convention Alliance. The delegation reportedly served more as a tobacco industry mouthpiece than as a champion of public health at the said conference.
Health advocates aired out their frustration in receiving another shameful award, which for them embodies the wearisome state of tobacco control in the country.
“We can’t just keep on ignoring awards like this,” said Alexander Padilla, Department of Health Undersecretary and former delegation head to previous COPs. “Tobacco control is a major component of public health, and we should take it seriously if we want to be taken seriously as a developing country.”
“Self control has never been the hallmark of tobacco transnationals. They sell a product that by its very nature kills half its loyal customers. Public health has never been in their agenda and they only sabotage efforts when they try to insinuate themselves,” said Ipat Luna, Senior Legal Adviser of HealthJustice, a public health policy NGO.
“It’s upsetting to see the tobacco industry having more say in tobacco control than we tobacco victims do,” said Emer Rojas, a throat cancer survivor and President of New Vois Association of the Philippines, a tobacco control advocacy group.
“We are about to file a complaint with the IAC-T even though its reputation is tarnished because the tobacco industry is there.” said Cath Maralit, sister of Nino Maralit, a 29 year old father who died last April in in a tobacco promotional drinking game sponsored by Philip Morris held in Puerto Galera. “May justice be served for the death of my brother and the nameless others who may have suffered the same fate.”