Philip Morris behind effort to manipulate Philippine courts?
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Philip Morris behind effort to manipulate Philippine courts?

HealthJustice, a group of lawyers that are pushing for better public health, released a statement yesterday giving more details about the alleged attempt by tobacco companies to block an anti-smoking campaign in the Philippines. This time, HealthJustice identified one particular company, Philip Morris, for allegedly using tobacco farmers as a front in a legal challenge to the anti-smoking campaign being implemented by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, the agency that manages several towns and cities that comprise Metro Manila.

If these charges are true, I think it is high time for the Supreme Court of the Philippines to investigate into this and punish those who are trying to manipulate the country’s judicial system.

Philip Morris, according to HealthJustice, was behind the bail bond a security guard paid the court after he was arrested for violating the anti-smoking law in Manila. As a result of the case, a Manila court later issued a temporary restraining order against the MMDA, ordering it to stop its anti-smoking campaign.

But also according to HealthJustice, Philip Morris has made it appear that tobacco farmers from the north had pooled together their own money to come up with the 100,000 peso bail bond.

HealthJustice quoted Avelino Dacanay, chairman of Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation, a farmers’ group, in its statement: “I don’t know him (Anthony Clemente, the security guard), but I doubt that farmers paid for the bond for the TRO. If you understand how precious P65 is to a farmer, how much more P100,000? It’s not something that farmers can just easily part with, especially for something that will not affect us anyway.”

According to HealthJustice, the guard’s lawyer, Luis dela Paz, had earlier claimed that the bail bond was paid by a certain Asuncion Lopez, a resident of a village in La Union province called Seng-ngat and a proponent of the Seng-ngat Ecological Society .

HealthJustice said other cases in the past establish the links between Lopez and Philip Morris, as can be gleaned from three news stories published online:

Tobacco farmers file graft charges vs BIR officials
BIR execs charged on strip stamp issue
Tobacco farmers press charges vs BIR executives

HealthJustice also claims that the Barangay Seng-ngat Ecological Society is “closely linked to Philip Morris. In 2007, they welcomed Chris Nelson, managing director of Philip Morris, at the inauguration of their office and for the induction of their officers. Signages in Sudipen, La Union also show logos of Philip Morris and TransManila, Inc. – a contracted domestic tobacco leaf buyer of Philip Morris.”

Photos from a Multiply page, two of which are below, seem to corroborate this link.

philip-morris

Philip Morris officials led by Chris Nelson, its managing director in the Philippines, is shown with Seng-ngat Ecological Society members and officers.

philip-morris2

A sign in Barangay Seng-ngat that bears the name and logo of Philip Morris