Philippines: Ex-Health chiefs, stakeholders slam DFA’s Locsin COP9 remarks

14 November 2021

Jon Viktor D. Cabuenas.  Source: GMA News

Former Health secretaries of the Philippines, and local advocacy groups over the weekend denounced the statements made by the country’s top diplomat during the recent Conference of the Parties (COP9) of the United Nations.

In a statement released Sunday, former health secretaries said Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr.’s latest statement was “a big mess, shameful, and depressing”  when he supposedly “welcomed” tobacco firms and their fronts.

“It is alarming that the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, in his statement on behalf of the Philippine delegation to COP9, praised tobacco use and the tobacco industry as being beneficial, echoed the tobacco industry’s illicit trade arguments against effective tobacco taxation, and called for and emphasized inclusion of all stakeholders, including the industry and its fronts,” the stakeholders’ group statement reads.

“This is a shameful and painful insult to the families of the more than 320 Filipinos who die daily due to tobacco-related diseases,” it added.

According to the statement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin Jr. touted vapes and e-cigarettes as “less harmful,” and praised tobacco firms for their “innovation in creating products that deliver satisfaction but with far less harm.”

Locsin made the remarks as he led the Philippine panel in the Ninth COP of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, where he pushed for a “science-based approach” in dealing with the country’s smoking problem.

Data from the Department of Finance (DOF) showed that excise tax collections from cigarettes stood at P83 billion in the first seven months of the year, up 31% from the P63 billion of the same period last year.

“We condemn the brazen act to sideline the Philippine tobacco control agenda during the COP9. Especially in a pandemic, the government must help the medical community reaffirm than disregard the right of Filipinos to the highest standard of health,” the statement continues.

“We urge the President to establish the Department of Health as the permanent lead in advancing public health interests at the WHO FCTC COP. Rather than praising the tobacco industry, all government agencies should commit to stronger tobacco control policies and protect these policies against the deceitful tactics and strategies of tobacco companies,” it added.

Among the signatories of the statement were former health secretaries Dr. Antonio Periquet, Dr. Carmencita Reodica, Dr. Esperanza Cabral, and Dr. Paulyn Ubial.

It was also signed by former PhilHealth President Atty. Alex Padilla, the Philippine Medical Association, the Philippine Pediatric Society, Philippine Society of Public Health Physicians, Philippine Dental Association, Philippine Society of General Internal Medicine, and Philippine Society of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism Inc.

The statement was also signed by 39 other signatories involved in the local health industry. —LBG, GMA News