This is how dirty tobacco companies in the Philippines have become. They have gone to the extent of lying, conniving and gaming the country’s judicial system just to have their way.
The Philippine government, particularly the local government units and such agencies like the Metro Manila Development Authority (MDDA), has been launching an anti-smoking campaign around the country. This is not to ban cigarettes altogether but just to designate areas where smokers can smoke.
Some have complained that the smoking regulations impinges on their right to smoke. In the meantime, the MMDA has arrested or fined those they have apprehended ever since the campaign began earlier this year.
Then suddenly, a judge issues a restraining order against the MMDA, stopping it from implementing its “Smoke-Free Campaign.”
It turns out that one of those who complained in court against the MMDA used to work as security guard for a tobacco company and that, according to him, the company paid for his P100,000 bail bond., which he would never be able to afford from his salary as a security guard.
Apparently, the plan was to have somebody file a case against the tobacco regulation in court, hoping that would set off a chain of events that could end up with the court deciding against the MMDA, which is exactly what happened. In short, the case fabricated by the tobacco company.
“The admission of the complainant that the case was fabricated should appall Filipinos to no end. The tobacco industry is obviously pulling out all stops to block laudable public health measures like the MMDA’s enforcement campaign,” states Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan, a former health secretary and an anti- tobacco advocate.
“Cases like these show how the tobacco industry belittles the competence of medical authorities in guarding the health of our citizens. In planting a witness against MMDA, they undermine the authority of the government to take care of its people,” Galvez-Tan said in a statement. “We, as medical professionals, know that efforts such as the smoking ban are necessary as there are no safe levels of exposure to second hand smoke.”
“There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests. The falsehood of the petition against MMDA is an abuse of the judicial system. It only further validates the need for the government to be protected from the tobacco industry,” says Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, projectdDirector of of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.
In a statement, MMDA chairman Francis Tolentino decried the court order stopping his agency.
“We are saddened by this turn of events but this will not stop us from pursuing more health-related advocacies
pursuant to Republic Act No. 7924 which mandates us to promote public health, safety and sanitation, urban protection and pollution control,” he said in a statement. “This is just a temporary setback. We will fight this all the way to protect the health of our citizens.”
The tobacco industry earlier challenged efforts by the government to implement picture warnings on tobacco packaging. They have also fought, unsuccessfully, the ban on tobacco advertising in the mass media.
According to tobacco control groups and the health department, 240 Filipinos die every day because of cigarette addiction and exposure to second-hand smoke and that tobacco-related illnesses are putting pressure on an already inadequate public health care system.