The Department of Foreign Affairs, and not the Department of Health, should select the country’s delegation to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Conference of Parties 9 that will be held online on Nov. 8 to 13 to represent national interest, including the welfare of Filipino farmers, according to two agriculture groups.
The Philippine Tobacco Growers Association and the Federation of Free Farmers said the DFA under the law is the country’s lead agency in global treaty meetings, such as the FCTC COP 9 conference.
“The COP 9 is an important event that has a great impact on the welfare and livelihood of farmers and our families. We are hoping that the government delegation will carry our interests and protect our rights during the conference,” said former Agriculture Secretary and FFF board chairman Leonardo Montemayor.
Farmers expressed concern over reports that the DOH through the Food and Drug Administration was marshaling the COP 9 delegation and sent out invitations to different government agencies to nominate their representatives, which is supposed to be the function of the DFA as the lead agency.
The DFA is mandated by Executive Order 292 and 459 as the “lead agency that shall advise and assist the President in planning, organizing, directing, coordinating and evaluating the national efforts in the field of foreign relations” and “negotiate treaties and other agreements pursuant to the instruction of the President.”
The farmers’ groups asked the government to give them equal representation in the Philippine delegation to the COP 9 after they were left out in the previous COP meetings because of the DOH’s alleged lobbying to exclude industry representatives and tobacco farmers.
The groups expressed optimism that this time, the government will ensure that the agriculture sector will not be overlooked. “We trust that the Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin will let our voices be heard as his department has always protected and advocated the national interest in many occasions,” said Saturnino Distor, president of PTGA.
The Philippine COP 9 delegation should bring to the table the country’s position and not just the position of the health sector, according to the farmers’ groups. They also questioned the involvement of The Union, a Bloomberg Philanthropies-funded foreign anti-tobacco organization, which the Food and Drug Administration, an attached agency of the DOH, is consulting with. The groups discovered COP-9 related emails that included The Union as one of the recipients.
With the threat of exclusion, the farmers’ groups cautioned against a backlash to the industry that has contributed significantly to the economy—with more than P148 billion in excise tax and P93.5 billion to the universal health care in 2020.
Distor said while his group respects and recognizes that the health concern associated with tobacco consumption should be addressed, “we believe that it should be done in a manner that also takes into consideration the welfare and interests of tobacco growing farmers who depend their and their families’ lives on this industry.”