Several lawmakers are calling for the repeal of a controversial CSC rule penned by then chairman and now DoH Secretary Duque that is now being used as the basis to ban tobacco companies from purchasing vaccines for their employees and dependents.
Surigao del Norte, 2nd District Rep. Ace Barbers and Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta (PBA) Party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles raised the alarm on the Joint Memorandum Circular 2010-1 issued by the Commission on Civil Service (CSC) and DOH, which singles out the tobacco industry and creates special rules for government employees detailing how they should interact with representatives from the tobacco industry, including small tobacco growing farmers.
Barbers said he recommends the scrapping of the JMC if “that is how the circular is being used.
In a public hearing last week, Nograles revealed that JMC 2010-01 was issued by the CSC and the DOH in 2010, the same year the DOH received a huge financial grant from the anti-tobacco NGO Bloomberg Initiative. Sec. Francisco Duque III was the Chairman of the CSC, after his tenure as DOH secretary, when the JMC was issued.
This, however, is not unique to the tobacco industry alone. Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon in a radio interview said organizations actively lobby against the alcohol, sugar and milk industry and provide millions of pesos to gov’t regulators in exchange for the implementation of their agenda.
“Yang mga lobby groups na yan, anti-tobacco, anti-alcohol, anti-milk formula, merong funded na mga foundation na nagbibigay ng pondo para maipagpatuloy yung laban sa tobacco, yung laban sa liqor, yung laban sa paggawa ng gatas para sa mga bata. Kaya ito po ay pangsariling agenda. Unfortunately nandyan na sila, entrenched na yan sa DOH itong mga lobbyist na ito.”
Nograles said while he is thankful that the DOH has finally agreed to withdraw its proposal to restrict businesses involved in tobacco, formula milk, and “other industries in conflict with the interest of public health” from procuring Covid-19 vaccines, the motive behind the proposal to exclude is very concerning.
For his part Deputy Speaker Wes Gatchalian said while it is imperative that we should support public health policies, “there must be a balanced approach to promote the general welfare when public necessity requires. This is not a time for discrimination. These companies are legitimate industries that provide livelihood and employment to millions of Filipinos and fulfills a large economic contribution to the country in taxes and revenue.
“The provision that wanted to exclude industries that are considered “in conflict with public health” from the national vaccination program highlights the need for us to be more vigilant,” Barbers said.
“I understand that the claimed legal basis for this now-deleted provision is the Joint Memorandum Circular 2010-01 issued by the DoH and the CSC. Nothing in that circular can be interpreted to justify the exclusion of several industries in our fight against COVID-19, he added.
“This JMC is an unlawful and unconstitutional memorandum that has remained unchecked until today,” Nograles noted.
“It has been revealed that foreign money has been influencing policy making in the DOH for quite some time. In fact, the Congressional hearing revealed at least US$2M in lobby money that has influenced policy coming from Bloomberg alone,” Nograles said.
Nograles said the proposed restriction was obviously pushed on the basis of Duque’s deal with Bloomberg and it shows that DOH policies “have already been compromised by foreign money.”
Drilon said that though he hates these products, he reiterated that zeroing on certain industries is discriminatory and is not right.
“At uulitin ko lang, ako po ang nangunguna noong panahon ng Pangulong Noynoy na syang nagtaas ng buwis dito sa sigarilyo at buwis ng alak, kaya ako’y galit dyan sa mga ganung klaseng produkto, ngunit sa aking tingin hindi tama, walang basehan, discriminatory,” Drilon said referring to the DOH COVID-19 vaccination draft policy.
Gatchalian said the DOH’s draft order was an overreach and beyond the authority of the Department aside from being unconstitutional.
Gatchalian recalled a similar situation during the Taal Volcano eruption in 2020 when donations of formula milk and even bottled water from companies who were willing to donate to the Taal evacuees were likewise prohibited.
The lawmaker raised the same concern then, when he learned that the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) was unable to distribute milk formula because of restrictions imposed in the law.
“There were hundreds of infants in evacuation centers then who needed milk and other substitute formula but were denied access to these donations. Clearly, the scenario is the same as the prohibition for the COVID-19 vaccines to be distributed to our countrymen merely on the basis of prohibited interactions between the industry and the bureaucracy,” he said.
If the DOH proposal had been adopted, companies like San Miguel Corporation, the entire Lucio Tan group, Puregold, Nestlé, Destileria Limtuaco and all soft drinks and alcoholic beverage producers would have been prevented from procuring vaccines for their employees.”
“We should not be misdirected by these interest-groups that instead of helping our country in our time of need, work to set us against each other,” Barbers said.