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Need for transparency

Last Nov. 7 to 12, the 7th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP7) to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) was held in Delhi, India.

Curiously, members of the media and the general public were reportedly prohibited from attending the plenary sessions and side meetings. Why the secrecy?

According to reports, this is the third time such a ban has been imposed during the bi-annual global meeting. Journalists were also not allowed to cover the meetings during COP5 in Seoul in 2012 and COP6 in Moscow in 2014.

The FCTC is the first treaty negotiated under the auspices of the WHO. The COP is the governing body of the WHO FCTC and is comprised of all parties to the convention.

The FCTC Secretariat has said “avoidance of conflicts of interest” is the primary justification for restricting participation in the conference, citing instances when individuals associated with the tobacco industry attending as part of the public were seen in previous COP meetings and sessions. COP7 delegates claimed persons with known ties with the tobacco industry had obtained entry as members of the public and were seated in plenary session at the main hall on the first day of the conference.

Shouldn’t the tobacco industry be given observer status? After all, it is the most affected by the treaty.

And because under COP rules of procedure, media was placed under the category of “public was kept out of the six-day event as per consensus among COP7 delegates.”

US-based think tank Reason Foundation vice president for research Julian Morris said barring media from covering the COP proceedings violates all the precepts of good governance, especially transparency.

According to Morris, the FCTC website currently lists only 20 NGOs as observers compared to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, which lists over 2,000 NGOs as observers.

It has been noted there is essentially no participation by representatives of many affected groups, including users of tobacco and electronic cigarettes, vendors, and farmers. Participation by international government organizations has also been restricted, most notably Interpol which has been denied Observer status despite its expertise in combating illicit trade in tobacco, a key topic covered by the FCTC.

Morris said the real reason for restricting access to the COP proceedings is that the FCTC does not want to allow any participant who disagrees with its assumption that the only option for smokers is to ‘quit or die.’

He explained that if the FCTC is genuinely committed to upholding people’s right to health, then it must listen to those who are taking control of the things that determine their health and to those who are helping them to do so.

Some of the groups that want participation are those representing products like vapers and snus.

Morris said the FCTC should open itself up to scrutiny by allowing journalists to attend all COP and technical committee sessions, or by livestreaming all its proceedings over the web.

Not so hidden agenda

OPERATION LAWIN. Faithful to its core value of compassion and malasakit, the Wong Chu King Foundation (WCKF) held a relief drive in Cagayan province which was most damaged by Typhoon Lawin (Haima) by giving away drinking water and roofing supplies. The foundation coordinated with the local government units and local parishes particularly in the towns of Tuguegarao, Peñablanca, Tuao, and Piat which incurred the most damage. The operation aims to compliment the national government’s quick response drive mainly composed of food supplies. Among those in photo are Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba, WCKF volunteer Sophia Gonzalo, WCKF general manager James Vincent Navarrete, WCKF volunteer Camelo Noel Navarro, and WCKF head coordinator Cristina Villanueva.

TOURISM STUDENTS CONFAB. The 13th Regional Tourism Convention was recently held at the Crown Pavilion, Tuguegarao City, with the theme “turiSTAR: Sustaining Tourism Gains to Achieve and Reach Billion Opportunities,”and was attended by over 700 students. Resource speaker Robert Lim Joseph, chairman of TEAM (Tourism Educators and Movers) Philippines, urged students to gain new insights and knowledge on the current trends and issues surrounding the hospitality industry and apply these in the future, even as he stressed the importance of developing entrepreneurship capability of hospitality students and the significance of public-private sector partnership in tourism. Shown in photo with Joseph are (from left) Sherelyn Tama, MSHRM-HTM program chair; Alicia Tuliao, MBE Dean, School of Accountancy, Business and Hospitality; and Muriel Santos from University of Saint Louis Tuguegarao after receiving the plaque of appreciation and token.

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