MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE) Over a hundred petitioners led by former senator and health secretary, Dr. Juan Flavier, sought on Tuesday a declaratory relief from the Makati Regional Trial Court over an administrative order (AO) which required tobacco manufacturers to put graphic warnings on the harmful effects of tobacco products on cigarette packs.
The petitioners want the court to clarify the extent of the Department of Health’s authority to issue an AO that seeks to promote the people’s right to health information.
“(We) pray that the Honorable Court make a judicial determination of the construction of the Tobacco Regulation Act in relation to DOH AO No. 2010-0013 and the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and its guidelines,” they said in their 40-page petition.
In separate cases, two tobacco companies have managed to secure injunctions from some, but not from all courts, by saying that the DOH could not issue an administrative order promoting the public’s right to health because of a provision in the Tobacco Regulation Act (TRA).
“The pivotal issue in this case is whether Section 13 (g) of the TRA precludes the DOH from issuing the AO,” said lawyers Leo Battad and Jose Jose of the UP Office of Legal Aid, counsel for the petitioners.
Section 13 (g) of the TRA requires that no other printed warnings, except the health warning and the message required shall be placed on cigarette packs.
In the petition, the lawyers argued that Section 13(G) of the TRA did not curtail the right and duty of the DOH to issue regulations protecting the right to health and health information through AO 2010-0013.
They added that the requirement of graphic health information under the AO complements Section 13(G) of the TRA.
“Furthermore, the DOH validly issued the AO pursuant to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and its guidelines for implementation,” the lawyers said.
“It’s absurd that the tobacco companies are refusing to recognize the DOH AO using no less than the TRA provisions. The aim of both law is to protect the public from the evils of tobacco consumption. The TRA does not remove the DOH’s authority to regulate tobacco in the country. If it has the effect of prohibiting other ways to protect the public’s right to information, it might as well be struck down for being unconstitutional,” Flavier said in a statement.
Flavier authored the Senate Bill that was passed as the Tobacco Regulation Act in 2003.
“The DOH has the duty to protect and promote the public’s right to health. It’s very commendable that they came up with the AO, which does exactly that….but there’s such strong opposition from the well-oiled machinery of the tobacco industry,” he added.
Named respondents to the declaratory relief were Fortune Tobacco Corporation, Philip Morris Philippines Manufacturing Inc., Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation, Telengtan Brothers and Sons, Mighty Corporation Tobacco Company, JT International the Philippine Tobacco Institute and the Department of Health, among others.
Apart from Flavier, among those who stood as petitioners were activist priest Fr. Robert Reyes, whose brother started smoking at the age of 14 and died of lung cancer at the age of 47 in 2004; and victims of tobacco-related diseases, including laryngeal cancer patients, and their families.
“I learned my lesson the hard way,” said Amancio Benas, a 62, a former forest ranger who lost his voice to laryngeal cancer due to smoking. With his voice box gone, he uses an “electro larynx,” a speaker device he holds close to his throat, projecting a voice formed from vibrations emitted by his stomach.
“When I realized that smoking was this hazardous, it was already too late,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Little children, including the grandchildren of victims of tobacco-related diseases, carried placards bearing messages pushing for the use of graphic health warning on cigarette packs, paraded at the city hall grounds.
“Get noisy on yosi,” “Maawa kayo sa sarili nyo…at sa amin din (Have pity on yourselves and on us),” some of their placards read.
According to the World Health Organization, three out of four people who know of the dangers tobacco want to quit. Graphic health information on cigarette packs has been known to effectively discourage tobacco use.
“I take pictures, they say a lot. There should be pictures so everyone understands,” added Alon, an eight-year-old petitioner in the case.