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MMDA to appeal TRO on smoking ban

MANILA, Philippines - The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) will appeal a Mandaluyong court ruling stopping them from arresting smokers in areas not covered by Republic Act 9211 or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2009.

The MMDA will file a motion for reconsideration (MR) of the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued on Monday by Branch 213 of the Mandaluyong City regional trial court.

MMDA chairman Francis Tolentino said the agency’s legal department is still drafting the MR and will be filing it as soon as it is finished.

He said MMDA has also tapped the assistance of the Office of the Solicitor General in the filing of the MR.

Tolentino said the decision of the court is a “minor” and “temporary setback” in the MMDA’s anti-smoking drive.

“We will fight this all the way to protect the health of our citizens,” he said.

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 Tolentino also vowed to continue pushing with the MMDA’s anti-smoking drive using its authority under Republic Act 7924, which created the agency.

“We are saddened by this turn of events but this will not stop us from pursuing more health-related advocacies pursuant to Republic Act 7924 which mandates us to promote public health, safety and sanitation, urban protection and pollution control,” he said.

“The temporary restraining order refers to only sidewalks and public thoroughfares. MMDA will still enforce the anti-smoking law in other areas covered by Republic Act 9211, together with the local government units,” he added.

In a six-page order dated Aug. 15, 2011, Judge Carlos Valenzuela granted the petition for the issuance of the TRO filed by security guards Antony Clemente and Vrianne Lamsen.

Clemente and Lamsen, who were apprehended on July 6 after they were caught smoking on the sidewalks on EDSA near the Farmers’ Market in Quezon City, asked the Mandaluyong court to stop the MMDA from implementing a ban on smoking in public places in Metro Manila.

Three former secretaries of the Department of Health (DOH) and several advocacy groups, meanwhile expressed disappointment over the TRO.

Former DOH chiefs Francisco Duque III and Esperanza Cabral said the MMDA campaign could significantly help reduce illnesses and deaths related to cigarette smoking.

“I am disappointed. It’s such a waste. It was a great deal of political will that the MMDA chief exercised to help curb smoking. It would have been a worthy effort of him that should have merited the support of everyone including the judiciary,” Duque said.

Cabral for her part said it was expected of the tobacco industry to “thwart efforts to promote the health of the people.”

She stressed the need to give priority to people’s health over the insufficient revenues derived from the tobacco industry.

Former DOH chief Jaime Galvez-Tan said the tobacco industry is “obviously pulling all stops to block laudable public health measures like the MMDA’s enforcement campaign.”

“We as medical professionals know that efforts such as smoking ban are necessary as there are no safe levels of exposure to second hand smoke,” he said.

Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines executive director Dr. Maricar Limpin said the TRO showed how far the tobacco industry will go to deny the people of their right to health, which is enshrined in the Constitution.

Philippine Medical Association president Dr. Oscar Tinio, on the other hand, called on the people to “stand up for their right to breathe clean air.”

“If people power against smoking will happen, then smokers will be discouraged to violate the law. Let the silent majority speak and be heard,” Tinio said.

A group of laryngeal cancer patients, New Voiz Assocation of the Philippines, said they also felt slighted by the issuance of the TRO on the MMDA smoking ban.   – With Sheila Crisostomo

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