Where there’s smoke…: Guard tags cigarette firm
A security guard said he had asked a Mandaluyong judge to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the smoking ban in Metro Manila’s streets because he had been promised money by a tobacco firm he used to work for.
“Opo (Yes),” the guard answered when asked on television if he got any compensation from the tobacco firm.
The guard, who was not shown on camera, was featured in a news report of a late-night program of ABS-CBN on Tuesday.
The Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court issued the TRO on Aug. 15 upon the request of two security guards who were fined P500 each by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) for smoking on a sidewalk in Cubao, Quezon City last month.
Antony Clemente and Vrianne Lamson were required to post the P100,000 bond to cover the claims of damages if the court’s final decision would be rendered in MMDA’s favor.
The guard’s admission sparked outrage among tobacco-control advocates.
“The admission of the complainant that the case was fabricated should appall Filipinos to no end,” Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan, a former health secretary, said in a statement sent by HealthJustice, a group of lawyers advocating tobacco control.
The group pooled all the reactions of its partners and allies about the TRO.
“The tobacco industry is obviously pulling out all stops to block laudable public health measures like the MMDA’s enforcement campaign,” Galvez-Tan said.
The guard interviewed on TV said his arrest and that of another guard on a sidewalk in Cubao had been planned.
He said he could not on his own come up with the bond. “I have no capacity to pay the bond for the TRO. I am just a minimum wage earner,” he said.
Both Clemente and Lamson earlier told the court that they were earning P462 a day at a stockyard of Manila Water in San Juan City.
They filed the petition in Mandaluyong RTC Branch 213 against the smoking ban of the MMDA.
Judge Carlos Valenzuela acted favorably on the petition, issuing the TRO good for 20 days.
Valenzuela said the MMDA had no authority to implement Republic Act No. 9211, or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003, and that thoroughfares were not included in the meaning of “enclosed or confined areas” where smoking was prohibited.
The MMDA said it would file a motion for reconsideration even as it imposed the smoking ban in other public places like restaurants and bus stations.
Another former health secretary assailed the issuance of the TRO.
“I share the frustration of the MMDA and antitobacco advocates at this latest maneuver of the tobacco pushers to thwart efforts to promote the people’s health,” Dr. Esperanza Cabral told reporters.
Cabral appealed to Valenzuela to reconsider his decision and heed the motion for reconsideration that the MMDA was planning to file. “I certainly hope the judge will see the merit of what the MMDA is doing and grant the appeal,” she said.
The guard’s lawyer, Luis de la Paz, dismissed as “unreliable” the news report that his client was offered money to file the petition. He said his client was misquoted.
“I have talked to the two of them. He (one of the petitioners) said he was just misquoted,” De la Paz said over the phone.
The lawyer added that the petitioner was rattled and confused about the reporter’s question.
On Wednesday afternoon, Clemente, who supposedly made the admission, executed an affidavit denying the news report, De la Paz said.
“I would like to clarify that I never worked for a tobacco company. I am an employee of Readyman and I have been assigned in different companies like Igloo, IDS, and Manila Water,” he said in Filipino.
He also denied having said that the tobacco company paid for the P100,000 bond. “The truth is the bond was not yet posted in the court,” he said.
On the claim that he had been promised money, Clemente said during the interview he was just compelled to give any answer to the reporter’s queries.
“When I was approached for an interview, I felt nervous and I was out of my mind because all of my neighbors were looking at me” he said.
Philip Morris lawyer
De la Paz is an associate of the law firm, Gonzales Batiller David Leabres Reyes & Associates, which listed Philip Morris Companies Inc. on its website www.gbdlr.com as one of its clients.
The lawyer has repeatedly denied any involvement of the tobacco giant in the case. “This is not the issue here. Let us focus on the legalities of the case,” De la Paz said.
Dr. Maricar Limpin, executive director of the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control Alliance-Philippines, said the complainant’s admission showed the extent that the tobacco industry would go “to repeatedly deny the right of Filipinos to protection of health in its goal to protect its business interests.”
Limpin called on other antismoking advocates to support the MMDA.
Other industry moves
Health Justice-Philippines, a Pasig City-based nongovernment organization composed of health advocates, said the case was not the first challenge thrown by the tobacco industry at the government for policies that regulate tobacco.
In July, Judge Winlove Dumayas of the Makati City Regional Trial Court dismissed the petition filed by former Sen. Juan Flavier, also a former health secretary, along with over a hundred petitioners.
The petitioners requested a declaratory relief over a Department of Health (DOH) administrative order requiring graphic health warnings on cigarette packs. Dumayas said the interests of the petitioners were too remote.
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