New order from DOH spells ‘violation’

Published by rudy Date posted on June 8, 2010

CANDON CITY, Ilocos Sur: Lawmakers from Northern Luzon are calling the new administrative order issued by the Department of Health (DOH) a “violation of the law.”

Rep. Eric Singson of Ilocos Sur and Rep. Victor Ortega of La Union both criticized Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral for issuing an administrative order that would compel local cigarette manu-facturers to violate two pertinent national laws governing the tobacco industry.

The Health department wants graphic health warnings printed on each pack of cigarette.

Under Administrative Order 1 2010-0013 issued on May 24, the department is “requiring graphic health information on all tobacco packages” and that tobac-co companies should “adopt measures to ensure that tobacco product packaging and labeling do not promote tobacco use by any means that are false, misleading, deceptive or likely to create an erroneous impression.”

Deputy Speaker Eric Singson said Cabral’s move appears to make local cigarette makers, exporters, and importers defy Republic Act 9211, or the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003, and Republic Act 9334, or the Excise Tax Act of 2005.

Singson reminded Cabral that the Philippines already has RA 9211, which rules health warnings on cigarette packaging. The Tobacco Regulation Act specifically states that “no other printed warnings, except the health warning and the message required in this section [Section 13] . . . shall be placed on cigarette packages.”

Cabral’s administrative order also calls for the removal of so-called “descriptors” in every pack of cigarette, such as “lights.”

Singson said removing these modifiers would put the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in a difficult situation, because descriptors such as the word “lights” was allowed by Republic Act 9334.

At the current leader of the Northern Luzon Alliance (NLA), Singson furthered that Cabral’s administrative order encroaches on the power of Congress to craft laws.

“How can Cabral, by mere executive order, amend an act of Congress?” Singson asked.

Under the administrative order, even exporters will be forced to break the tobacco regulatory laws of countries importing cigarettes from the Philippines as they will be compelled to print Philippine graphic health warnings prescribed under Cabral’s administrative order.

“We would like to remind the honorable secretary that it is only Congress which is empowered to pass legislation to flesh out an international treaty,” Singson said. “A mere administrative order would not suffice.”

It appears that Cabral is deli-berately going against Congress on her issuance of the administrative order, affirmed Rep. Victor Ortega of La Union, incoming head of the NLA or “Northern Bloc.”

“There were several bills filed to amend RA 9211, including a bill to put graphic health warnings on tobacco packaging,” Ortega con-tinued. “Said bill was thoroughly discussed upon but was eventually rejected after a series of meetings and consultations by a congressional technical working group formed by the Committee on Health . . . And then there’s the matter of jurisdiction,” he said.

Under RA 9211, the Inter-Agency Committee on Tobacco was created to have exclusive jurisdiction on matters involving cigarette pack-aging, advertising, sponsorship, and public smoking, among others.

On the other hand, Executive Orders 245 (Series of 1987) grants exclusive jurisdiction to the National Tobacco Administration on matters relating to “production, standardization, classification, grading and trading of tobacco and tobacco products.”

“Today, there are specific agencies created under special laws already regulating the tobacco industry—from tobacco production to cigarette packaging. Clearly, the DOH Secretary went beyond her authority when she issued the administrative order. Cabral’s actions should be consistent with these special laws,” said Ortega.

The La Union lawmaker furthered, “We want to avoid a situation where multiple agencies will exercise jurisdiction over the same issue, which will only lead to confusion.”

Tobacco farmers recently picketed in front of the Department of Labor in San Fernando City, La Union as a way to air their sentiments and to call the attention of newly elected officials for support in their fight against the anti-smoking and anti-tobacco laws. –THOM F. PICANA Correspondent, Manila Times

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