MANILA, Philippines - International tobacco-control organizations on Friday expressed support for the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority's (MMDA) ban on smoking on public roads in the metropolis.
The groups, in a press statement, also accused the tobacco industry of having a hand in the case filed against MMDA's smoking ban.
"In a TV interview last month, complainant Antony Clemente confessed that he was paid by a tobacco company to take MMDA to court but retracted his statement through his lawyer hours after the airing of the news program. As well, the tobacco farmers who allegedly sponsored the bond for the temporary restraining order were found to be linked with tobacco company Philip Morris," the statement said.
"Paying petitioners to file restraints against public health regulations is a deliberate abuse of the legal system. These actions demonstrate the lengths that Philip Morris International and other tobacco corporations will go to in order to continue to export death and disease to every corner of the globe," said Gigi Kellett, campaign director of Corporate Accountability International.
Philip Morris earlier denied the allegations that the company was behind the complaint. “We had nothing to do with that,” said Chris Nelson, president of Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp..
A Corporate Accountability International campaign, Challenging Big Tobacco, organizes actions that expose and challenge attempts of the tobacco industry to interfere in the implementation of public health treaty World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), according to the group.
The Philippines became a party to WHO FCTC in 2005.
"To date, representatives of the tobacco industry have filed 8 different cases opposing the authority of the government to implement various provisions of said global treaty," the Corporate Accountability International statement said.
Kellett accused tobacco corporations of using a range of tactics, commonly including "intimidation by litigation" or interference with the judicial process, to restrain countries from implementing strong tobacco control measures as part of their obligation to WHO FCTC.
Framework Convention Alliance also expressed its ire through Director Laurent Huber.
"The court order on the smoking ban is definitely disappointing. Links between the tobacco industry and the side of the complainants - not to mention an admission of the complainant himself, are all easily visible," Huber said.
"We strongly urge the Philippine government to be vigilant against this manipulation by the tobacco industry, which echoes its tactics worldwide. For example, PMI has launched a case against Uruguay for its ground-breaking tobacco control measures as an attempt to block the country's efforts to protect the health of its citizens," he added.
Framework Convention Alliance consists of over 350 organizations in more than 100 countries working on the development, ratification, and implementation of WHO FCTC.
Meanwhile, South East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) director Bungon Ritthiphakdee commended the efforts of MMDA chairman Francis Tolentino for standing his ground on the smoking ban.
"MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino deserves public and national government support for his bold initiatives to protect the health of Metro Manila residents from tobacco smoke. He has that support from SEATCA, and all its partners throughout Southeast Asia," Ritthiphakdee said. "He should stand fast and confident in the knowledge that political will and irrefutable science can and will overcome even the most underhanded tactics by the tobacco industry."
The anti-tobacco groups cited World Health Organization data showing that a Filipino dies of a tobacco-related illness every 6 minutes.
"Seven out of the ten primary causes of death in the country - stroke, cancer, heart attacks, tuberculosis, chronic lower respiratory disease, pneumonia, and diseases that occur around childbirth - are all tobacco-related diseases," their statement added.