Cayetano hits ‘huge’ Philippines delegation to WHO meeting

Marc Jayson Cayabyab - The Philippine Star
Cayetano hits �huge� Philippines delegation to WHO meeting
Senator Pia Cayetano on February 21, 2024.
STAR / Jesse Bustos

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Pia Cayetano scored the Philippines’ “huge” delegation to a World Health Organization (WHO) tobacco control conference, where, instead of getting recognized for cracking down on smoking, the country was publicly shamed with its fifth “Dirty Ashtray” award.

Cayetano, who presided over the Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing on the dishonorable award, said the Philippines sent the “biggest delegation” of 34 led by Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Hubert Dominic Guevara.

“For all of you who will feign ignorance, it is a tobacco lobby,” Cayetano said of the delegation that allegedly touted the country’s 2021 vape law that allowed tobacco smokers to shift to vapor products.

“Why would we want our Philippine delegation associated with a ‘dirty ashtray’ award? Why would we want to be known as succumbing to the lobby of the tobacco industry?” she added.

The Philippine delegation was given the “award” by civic watchdog Global Alliance for Tobacco Control for allegedly blocking the consensus on mandating the disclosure of the toxic contents of tobacco products during the Conference of Parties (COP10) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in Panama City last Feb. 5-10.

The Philippines proposed a “compromise option” that “further muddled the discussion and caused more delay,” according to the group Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.

“We were given the ‘award’ because these were considered delaying tactics. We’ve received it for five years already. It seems we are a favorite because of the tobacco lobby,” Cayetano said.

During the hearing, Guevara denied the Philippines blocked consensus on the declaration of tobacco content and that the delegation had to find a compromise amid clashing global players’ positions in the COP10.

Guevara said he recognizes the dangers of smoking, having lost his father to lung cancer. But he defended the country’s policies on tobacco, such as the sin tax on cigarette products that went to funding universal health care.

“I deeply apologize if this has brought embarrassment to you and to our country,” Guevara said, addressing the senator.

“For COP11, we can come up with enforcement frameworks, where we can eradicate the illicit trade of tobacco and also to stop the sale of e-cigarettes to minors,” he added of the country’s next moves to prevent a repeat of the award.

The group Child Rights Network slammed the Philippine delegation for succumbing to the tobacco industry instead of protecting the youth from access to new tobacco products.

“The pro-tobacco industry Vape Law, which the Philippine delegation showcased at the Conference of Parties, is making vapes or e-cigarettes more accessible to children,” the network said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano scored the country’s “balanced approach” in calling on the public to quit smoking and in protecting the livelihood of tobacco farmers.

During the Blue Ribbon hearing, National Tobacco Administration chief Belinda Sanchez said that while 20,000 families in tobacco farming earn P50,000 a year, the tobacco industry makes an annual profit of P160 billion.

“Let’s not say we are protecting the tobacco farmers here. Only P1 billion goes to the farmers but P159 billion goes to the tobacco capitalists,” Cayetano said.

“The problem for me is we present ourselves as anti-tobacco, but we are pro-tobacco,” he added.

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