Philippines bags ‘Orchid Award’ from WHO for cutting ties to tobacco lobby

MANILA, Philippines—Talk about “quitting cold turkey.”

Two years after getting the dubious “Dirty Ashtray Award,” the Philippines was recognized on Tuesday, at a World Health Organization (WHO) conference in Seoul, South Korea, for excluding representatives of the tobacco industry from its official delegation.

The country was given the “Orchid Award” for excluding the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) from its delegation to the 5th Conference of Parties (COP5) of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC), the group HealthJustice said on Tuesday.

The award was given by the Framework Convention Alliance, which groups 350 civil society organizations from 100 countries that work for the development, ratification, and implementation of the international convention against tobacco.

“This is a remarkable moment in the history of public health. We salute the President, the Department of Health and Civil Service Commission for upholding our obligations to WHO FCTC,” said lawyer Irene Reyes, HealthJustice managing director.

Reyes noted that the Philippines was bestowed the “shameful” Dirty Ashtray Award in 2010 when its delegation “mouthed pro-tobacco industry interests at the COP4 in Uruguay.”

Earlier this year, Corporate Accountability International also gave the country’s Inter-agency Committee on Tobacco (IAC-T) its infamous “Marlboro Man Award” for giving the Philippine Tobacco Institute a seat in the committee, Reyes said.

Corporate Accountability International said this compromised the committee’s “obligation” to protect the public against the harmful effects of tobacco, she added.

Reyes noted that the Conference of Parties was firm in ensuring that tobacco industry representatives “are kept at a safe distance.”

She noted that Interpol, the world’s largest police organization, was refused observer status at this year’s conference due to reports that it received US$15 million from Philip Morris International.

“These are necessary steps to ensure that the Illicit Trade Protocol which has just been adopted is safeguarded against tobacco industry interference,” Reyes said.

HealthJustice said the Bureau of Customs had also refused to renew its partnership agreement with Philip Morris in accordance with a 2010 joint memorandum circular issued by the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Health “to protect the bureaucracy from (tobacco) industry interference.”

“We are hopeful to see the Philippines making great strides towards advancing public health as a priority. This is a true win for the Filipino people and for civil society who can look to a government that now recognizes that the preservation of health far outweighs any profit that the tobacco industry could provide,” says John Stewart, Challenge Big Tobacco Campaign Director at Corporate Accountability International.

While congratulating the Philippine delegation for ensuring a tobacco industry-free team to the Seoul conference, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance director Bungon Ritthipakdee stressed that this should serve as a good practice for other Philippine officials and policymakers to emulate.

“Government officials and policymakers have the power to stop tobacco industry interference in their hands,” Ritthipakdee said.

“As long as government consistently rejects the tobacco industry in activities and events such as attendance to the COP, this sends a a very strong signal that we are serious in halting their interference and manipulative tactics,” Ritthipakdee added. With a report from Dechen Tshering


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