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Anti-tobacco money linked to DOH order excluding tobacco firms from vaccination

A 10-YEAR-OLD rule of the Civil Service Commission drafted after receipt of grant money from a U.S. anti-tobacco NGO is being used by the Department of Health as a basis to exclude employees of tobacco companies and their dependents from having access to Covid-19 vaccines imported by the government.

This developed after Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo revealed that the controversial draft DOH Administrative Order denying tobacco companies access to vaccines was based on the CSC Joint Memorandum Circular 2010-01 issued by Health Secretary Francisco Duque when he was still head of the CSC in 2010.

The circular which prohibits government officials and employees from interacting with the tobacco industry was issued on the same year the DOH and the CSC received massive grants from the anti-tobacco NGO Bloomberg Initiative.

“The proposed policy of preventing companies that are deemed to be engaged in activities that are contrary to public health reflects a misappreciation by its proponents of the public health mandate of the DOH during a pandemic,” Quimbo said in a statement.

“It should not preclude milk companies based on its interpretation of EO 51, and neither should it discriminate against the tobacco companies and their employees in particular based on a faulty reading of Joint Memorandum Circular 2010-01,” Quimbo added.

“Why will you discriminate against these companies and their employees? Wala ba silang karapatan na ma-vaccinate eh Filipino rin naman sila? (Don’t they have the right to be vaccinated. They are also Filipinos),” House Deputy Speaker Bernadette Herrera said.

“These companies are trying to offer solutions and protect their employees as well as their dependents who are Filipinos,” Herrera said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said “it is one thing to discourage smoking or lactose intolerance, and quite another to destroy the livelihood and the lives of people who depend on the tobacco, milk, sugar and soda companies which pay more taxes than the directors of PhilHealth have stolen.”

“And yet the village idiot is preparing an administrative order prohibiting these companies from procuring and donating vaccines to their employees and the government,” he said, without naming any official.

Other sectors such as producers of alcoholic beverages, sugary drinks, junk food snacks and even fast-food chains, may also be tagged as “in conflict with public health.”

Senator Imee Marcos described the exclusion of these industries as “downright evil” that would undermine the government’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

“We are about to see a total wipeout of the 50-percent donation of vaccines by these large companies, donations which are stipulated in each tripartite agreement among private entities, vaccine manufacturers and the government,” Marcos said.

Marcos said “the administrative order totally contradicts the ‘shared responsibility’ and collaboration the government has sought from the private sector and other organizations through its Philippine National Deployment and Vaccination Plan for Covid-19.”

“That means the entire San Miguel group, the whole Lucio Tan group, Puregold, Nestle, Destileria Limtuaco, all soft drinks producers, Tanduay, Ginebra, White Castle, etc,” she said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III has threatened to cut the DOH budget if it pursues such a policy warning that Congress has the power of the purse.

“Our people need all the help they can get and yet they are preventing it by that absurd policy?” Sotto said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he is deeply disturbed by the reported draft AO describing such a policy “ discriminatory and morally unacceptable.”

“Who is playing God here once more? Please stop playing God. This is not the time for politics and selfish agenda. It is our moral responsibility to share the vaccine,” Drilon said.

Drilon warned that he will call for a Senate investigation if Duque insists on his “unlawful” order.

“The law (Covid Vaccination Act) recognizes the role private entities in arresting the pandemic. That law made them partners of government in ensuring that the workforce is safe and protected from the Covid-19,” Drilon added.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto also chided the DOH for their proposal.

“What is wrong with these people in the DOH and NTF that they will not allow private wealth to be used for public welfare,” Recto said.

Recto pointed out that the alcohol industry paid excise taxes of P77 billion in 2019 and P62 billion in 2020.

“If these merchants of sin would like to plow back their profits in the form of vaccines, half for their workers and half for the people, why would a fumbling government illegalize such an offer of help?” Recto asked.