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Securing WHO FCTC Article 11 Compliance Through Legislative Advocacy: the Philippines

Author(s) Patricia Miranda1, Diana Cecilia Trivino2, Karla Mae Rocas3, Evita Mariz Ricafort4.
Affiliation(s) 1Legal Team, HealthJustice Philippines, Antipolo City, Philippines, 2Legal Team, HealthJustice, Quezon City, Philippines, 3Legal Team, HealthJustice Philippines, Quezon City, Philippines, 4Legal Team, HealthJustice Philippines, Quezon City,Philippines.
Country - ies of focus Philippines
Relevant to the conference tracks Governance and Policies
Summary Under the WHO FCTC, the Philippines obligated itself to require effective health warnings on cigarette packs by 2008. That deadline has long passed. Thus, HealthJustice Philippines (HJ) and Social Weather Stations (SWS) conducted a nationwide survey entitled "Usage and Attitudes of Filipino Youth Towards Tobacco" to gauge the behavioral response of Filipino youth towards graphic health information (GHI) on cigarette packages. The results show, among others, that 82% of current smokers believe that GHI shall be effective in preventing the increase of smokers. The survey is one of the launching points of HJ's legislative advocacy to ensure the passage of a GHI law in the 16th Congress.
What challenges does your project address and why is it of importance? The biggest challenge to the GHI legislative advocacy plan is the strong pro-tobacco lobby of the Northern Luzon Alliance (NLA), a legislative bloc composed mostly of representatives of tobacco-growing districts in Northern Luzon. The NLA has been known to deliver a "solid vote" against tobacco control measures in the Philippines. Currently, the Philippines is implementing Republic Act No. 9211, otherwise known as the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 (RA 9211), which provides for text-only warnings at the bottom portion of only one side of the pack. The contents of the warnings have not changed since the enactment of RA 9211 in 2003. Notably, RA 9211 does not comply with Philippine obligations under the WHO FCTC. Under this treaty, the Philippines is obligated enact effective measures requiring the placement of GHI on tobacco product packages by 2008. Thus, the Philippines has breached its international obligations when it missed its deadline to comply with the WHO FCTC. As a member of the family of nations, the Philippines agreed to be bound by generally accepted rules for the conduct of its international relations.
How have you addressed these challenges? Do you see a solution? It is urgent and necessary that Congress pass a law or laws guaranteeing that all our policies are in compliance with the WHO FCTC. One such legislative measure is the passage of a law requiring the placement of graphic health GHI on tobacco product packages, and banning the use of misleading descriptors thereon.HJ is currently with individual lawmakers and lawmaking bodies to gain support for GHI. As part of its legislative advocacy plan, HJ has prepared the following documents:
(a) brief on implementing Article 11 of the WHO FCTC in the Philippines;
(b) draft model bill incorporating the requirements of the WHO FCTC and its Implementing Guidelines;
(c) legislator's toolkit containing reports, surveys and studies relating to the effectivity of GHI in other countries; and
(d) presentation containing data which includes the results of the HJ-SWS nationwide survey entitled "Usage and Attitudes of Filipino Youth Towards Tobacco."At the time of this writing, there are currently seven Graphic Health Information bills. In the Senate, there are two bills filed by Senate President Franklin Drilon and Senator Pia Cayetano. In the House of Representatives, there are currently five bills on GHI, filed by Representatives Marcelino Teodoro of Marikina City, Niel Tupas of Iloilo, Joseph Violago of Nueva Ecija, Leah Paquiz of Ang Nars Party List, and Eric Singson of Ilocos Sur. All of these bills have been read on First Reading and are pending in their respective committees on health and/or trade. It should be noted that Eric Singson is a member of the Northern Luzon Alliance (NLA), a legislative bloc composed mostly of representatives of tobacco-growing districts in Northern Luzon. This may prove to be a sign that there is public clamor for more health promotive policies, particularly one requiring the placement of graphic health GHI on tobacco product packages. Hence, the solution lies in pushing for the passage of a law requiring GHI, particularly because of the presence and commitment of dedicated champions, the recent re-filing of the bills in both Houses of Congress, and the filing of a bill from a member of the NLA.
How do you know whether you have made a difference? One can only hope to make a difference, since the passage of any tobacco control measure in the Philippines entails coordination and teamwork between public health advocates. This is because the Philippines has the strongest tobacco lobby in Asia. Thus, one crucial gauge to determine if tobacco control advocates have made a difference in pushing for WHO FCTC compliant measures is to determine the number of tobacco control measures passed.
Have you or the project mobilized others and if so, who, why and how? The HJ Project Team is still currently mobilizing legislators and government agencies. Hence, the results of the "Usage and Attitudes of Filipino Youth Towards Tobacco," as well as the contents of the draft WHO FCTC-compliant bill, is being made available to the public.
When your donor funding runs out how will your idea continue to live? While donor funding may have been useful in drafting the documents submitted to the legislators in the Senate and Congress, these documents are also made available to the public. Hence, even if donor funding runs out, the documents meant to promote standardized tobacco product packaging and labeling in accordance with the Article 11 Guidelines would still be available to other tobacco control advocates, both public and private partners, to use and disseminate as they fit. The end goal would be amending RA 9211 to ensure its compliance with the WHO FCTC. The Department of Health, the Civil Service Commission, and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority are government agency partners of HJ. These agencies have shown a strong support for the implementation of tobacco control policies in the Philippines.