THE long-awaited Justice Summit 2024 reeled off last week at the Makati Diamond Residences with the theme of “Freedom through Justice Reforms.” A joint project of the Supreme Court and the Judicial Reform Initiative (JRI), the conference highlighted business perspectives on the rule of law and access to justice.
The JRI is an umbrella organization consisting of major business associations, judicial advocacy groups and foreign chambers of commerce that promote the advancement of the rule of law, socioeconomic justice, global competitiveness and sustainable economic growth. It is currently headed by Francisco Ed. Lim as chairman and Jose Jerome R. Pascual III as president, both of whom are past presidents of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (Finex), a JRI member-association.
In his keynote speech, Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo discussed the judiciary’s role in nation-building and its ongoing initiatives under the Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovations 2022-2027 crafted by the highest court in the land. He expressed satisfaction over the JRI survey results showing a high public perception of the judiciary’s integrity.
Such collaborations between the government and the business community have been institutionalized through the recent enactment of Republic Act (RA) 11988, otherwise known as the Public-Private Partnership Code of the Philippines. This will speed up the implementation of PPP projects in the country while promoting the rule of law as a foundational element for business development and investments.
Economic impact of trade controls
IN stark contrast, the World Health Organization has alienated certain countries and industries through its tactics in compelling compliance with its regulations. Case in point is Indonesia, which has not ratified the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control governed by the Conference of the Parties (COP) composed of country representatives. The Indonesian government specifically cited the negative impact of FCTC adoption on the country’s gross domestic product per capita.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo said the international community should understand that there are millions of farmers and workers who rely on the tobacco industry for their livelihood. He sees no need to follow other countries that have signed the FCTC since Indonesia has its own policies regarding health and cigarette consumption.
A non-government organization (NGO) called the Global Alliance on Tobacco Control (GATC) styles itself as the leading FCTC watchdog. The self-appointed global arbiter of public health policies is only holding an observer status in the COP, but if a member-country does not follow the WHO’s agenda, it is given a Dirty Ashtray Award by GATC.
Eight-time recipient Japan has been the most-awarded country in this hall of shame so far. This, despite achieving significant strides in reducing the prevalence of smoking from 82.3 percent in 1965 to 27.8 percent in 2018 among Japanese men over 20 years and from 16.5 percent to 8.7 percent during the same period for Japanese women in the same age range. Studies have shown that lower cigarette sales in Japan correspond to the introduction of heated tobacco products that many smokers have switched to. Yet the dramatic drop in Japan’s smoking rate has garnered those dubious awards from GATC.
As the first Asian country to pass a law that separately treats combustible tobacco products from smoke-free alternatives, the Philippines has reduced its smoking rate from 23.5 percent in 2001 to 19.5 percent in 2021. In spite of its efforts to lower the prevalence of smoking, our country has become a four-peat Dirty Ashtray awardee.
Unlike the WHO which has gotten so much flak due to its mishandling of the Wuhan outbreak that caused the Covid-19 pandemic, the Philippines is not a laggard when it comes to using proven scientific consensus in formulating public health policies. In fact, RA 11900 or the Vape Regulation Act of 2022 is a landmark legislation that has been lauded worldwide by health experts and consumer groups for recognizing that innovative smoke-free products bring less harm to smokers than cigarettes.
Why then is the WHO allowing an NGO with zero accountability to serve as its attack dog in passing judgment on a nation’s policies? By shaming countries that have, in fact, implemented FCTC’s harm reduction strategies, GATC has taken the cancel culture to a different level. At stake are the sovereignty of nations and the independence of their policy-making process.
Instead of creating divisiveness, organizations such as the WHO and GATC should follow the collaborative approach taken by the Supreme Court of the Philippines and various business groups in crafting policies and programs that redound to the benefit of all parties concerned.
Joseph Gamboa is the vice-chair of the Finex Ethics Committee and director of Noble Asia Industrial Corp. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinion of these institutions and the BusinessMirror. #FinexPhils www.finex.org.ph.