Petitioner against smoking ban denies being paid by tobacco company

MANILA, Philippines – Can minimum-wage earners afford the P100, 000 bond for the temporary restraining order on the smoking ban?

One of the petitioners in the TRO case against the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority’s smoking ban admitted Tuesday on television that he couldn’t and he has been promised money by a tobacco firm he used to work for.

But the same petitioner, Anthony Clemente, came out on Wednesday to deny the news report, saying he was misquoted.

In a news report of a late-night television program Tuesday, one of the petitioners appeared to have confessed that their apprehension on a sidewalk in Cubao, Quezon City was planned.

Asked if he was promised money by the tobacco firm, the petitioner who was hidden from the camera answered “Opo. [Yes].”

By how much, he said he was not told.

The petitioners’ lawyer Luis de la Paz dismissed the news report as “unreliable,” claiming his client was misquoted.

Antony Clemente and Vrianne Lamson, who both told the court previously that they were earning P462 a day at a stockyard of the Manila Water in San Juan City, filed the petition at the Mandaluyong regional trial court Branch 213 to stop the smoking ban of the MMDA.

On Monday, Judge Carlos Valenzuela of Branch 213 issued the TRO for 20 days ruling in favor of the two.

Valenzuela said the MMDA had no authority to implement the Republic Act 9211 or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 and minor and major thoroughfares were not included in the meaning of the “enclosed or confined areas” where smoking should be banned.

The petitioners are required to post the P100,000 bond, which would cover the claims of damages if the court’s final decision went in MMDA’s favor.

“I have no capacity to pay the bond for the TRO. I am just a minimum-wage earner,” the petitioner said.

The supposed admission sparked an 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, former DOH 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,” he said.

HealthJustice said the TRO was not the first challenge thrown by the tobacco industry to the government for policies that regulate tobacco use.

The group said last July, Judge Winlove Dumayas of the Makati RTC dismissed the petition filed by former senator and Department of Health secretary Juan Flavier along with over a hundred petitioners requesting for declaratory relief over a DoH Administrative Order requiring graphic health warnings on cigarette packs.

According to Dumayas, the interests of the petitioners were too remote.

“We, the petitioners, suffered years of our lives due to cancer, lost our own throats, voices. A lot have lost their loved ones. All of this is because of the consumption of a deadly product that does not carry sufficient warning. Now we are told that our interests are remote,” said Emerito Rojas, president of New Voice Association of the Philippines (NVAP).

NVAP is a tobacco control advocacy group composed mainly of cancer victims that attribute their cancer to smoking.

Tan said that by planting a witness against MMDA, the tobacco industry “undermines the authority of the government to take care of its people.”

Tan pointed out the “fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.”

“The falsehood of the petition against MMDA is an abuse of the judicial system. It only further validates the need for the government to be protected from the tobacco industry,” Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo in the same statement.

Dorotheo is a recipient of the Judy Wilkenfeld Award for excellence in international tobacco control this May for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington, D.C. and Project Director of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.

Sought for his comment, the petitioners’ lawyer Luis de la Paz claimed one of the petitioners was misquoted by the television station.

“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.

“Right now, we are trying to get to the bottom of this. There is no tobacco company behind him. The report is not true,” he said.

De la Paz added that the petitioner was rattled and confused about the reporter’s question.

When the case was filed last month, groups supporting the MMDA’s smoking ban have been questioning the motives of the lawyer and the petitioners in filing the case.

De la Paz is an associate of law firm Gonzales Batiller David Leabres Reyes & Associates which listed Philip Morris Companies Inc., in its clients as posted in its website

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,” he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, petitioner Antony Clemente, who supposedly made the admission, executed an affidafit denying the news report, De la Paz said.

In a copy e-mailed to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Clemente said most of the things he allegedly said in the interview were far from the truth and have been used in a wrong context.

“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 has been promised money, Clemente said during the interview he was just compelled to give any answer to the reporter’s queries.

“Nung ako ay nilapitan para sa interview, ako ay kinabahan at wala sa tamang isip dahil lahat ng kapitbahay naka-tingin sa akin, [When I was approached for an interview, I felt nervous and I was out of my right mind because all of my neighbors are looking at me],” he said.

The MMDA said that it would seek a motion for reconsideration before the Mandaluyong court, which stopped the government agency from enforcing a smoking ban based on Clemente’s disclosure Tuesday night.

In a statement, MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino said that the complainant’s admission could nullify the TRO issued by Judge Carlos Valenzuela against the ban.
“The complainants were planted and their arrest by our environmental enforcers was planned that’s why we can say that some businessmen were interested in this case,” said Tolentino.

With a report from Frances Mangosing,


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