MANILA, Philippines—The Bangkok-based Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Coalition (SATCC) has expressed “shock” and “disappointment” over the Tanauan City government’s decision to name one of its streets in Batangas after the US cigarette brand Philip Morris.
The Tanauan city council’s decision to honor the tobacco firm “contravenes and defies the good work being done in tobacco control worldwide…It portrays the city in a negative light internationally,” said SATCC director Bungon Ritthiphakdee.
Citing a Philippine Daily Inquirer report on the city council’s resolution allowing the installation of a street sign with the name Philip Morris, Ritthiphakdee said it was “truly disappointing and runs contrary to international standards.”
“Even more shocking is that this decision was made as a way of expressing your city’s appreciation for the tobacco company’s support to the city…We urge you to reconsider your decision and revoke the city council resolution,” she said in a letter to Tanauan City Mayor Sonia Torres-Aquino.
Ritthiphakdee also told Aquino: “While you want to reward Philip Morris, the total economic loss due to four major smoking-related diseases is an estimated $6 billion, a tab the Filipino public must pick up. Since smoking prevalence in the Philippines is rising, this loss is set to also increase in the coming years.”
The SATCC official pointed out that “Philip Morris Philippines Manufacturing Inc. (PMPMI) now controls 90 percent of the cigarette market, which will mean it is responsible for the bulk of the diseases, deaths, and disabilities related to smoking in the coming years, not something you would want to reward.”
Ritthiphakdee noted, “A tobacco company is not a stakeholder in public health nor any tobacco control-related activities.”
“Article 53 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control clearly warns tobacco companies from interfering with public policy. Corporate Social Responsibility activities of tobacco firms are to be banned, according to the implementing guidelines of the FCTC.”
Philip Morris “has framed itself as a good corporation and you are rewarding them in an unprecedented manner,” said Ritthiphakdee.
Early this month, the Bureau of Trade Regulation and Consumer Protection of the Department of Trade and Industry ordered an investigation of the Tanauan City council’s move.
The complaint of the Framework Convention Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines against the city council was “consistent with a provision of the Monitoring and Enforcement Guidelines of Republic Act 9211 (otherwise known as the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2007),” said Zenaida Maglaya, DTI undersecretary for consumer welfare and trade regulation.
FCAP executive director Maricar Limpin said, “Putting up a street sign bearing the name of a cigarette brand is not only a violation of an existing law, but is utterly unmindful of, and insensitive to the health of Tanauan folk.”
Aquino has yet to reply to this reporter’s request for an interview. Gregor Manguiat, barangay (village) chairman of Pantay Bata, Tanauan City, defended the city council for issuing the “Philip Morris Street” resolution.
The Pantay Bata barangay council itself earlier issued a similar resolution, citing the “number of positive rewards” received by the community for hosting Philip Morris’s lone production facility in the country.
Manguiat told the Philippine Daily Inquirer his barangay would be “forever indebted to Philip Morris for generating jobs, providing scholarship programs for poor but deserving college students, and livelihood and infrastructure projects here.”
“Some P100 million in annual taxes paid by Philip Morris benefit not only Pantay Bata but the other 45 plus barangays here in Tanauan,” he said. Manguiat added that “from No. 38 in the rankings (based on community improvements), we have risen to No. 1. Thanks to Philip Morris.”
Like FCAP, Sen. Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal favors a total ban on tobacco use in the country. “The cost to our people’s health far outweighs any purported economic contributions of cigarette consumption in our country,” she said.
She asserted, “A total ban is not only timely but more importantly a step in the right direction to safeguarding our people’s health. Only a total ban will serve its purpose.”