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‘Boracay of the South' reopens for business

March 8, 2021

KORONADAL City — Mindanao’s “version of Boracay,” the coastal town of Glan in Sarangani province, has started accepting guests from within and outside Region 12 (Soccsksargen), Glan Mayor Vivien Yap said.      Visitors need to book first with the resorts so they will be allowed entry to the town famous for its fine white sand beaches in Gumasa district, among others.      “Guests shall stay within the resort they’re accommodated as we don’t allow beach hopping,” she said.      A bucolic town at least an hour’s ride away from General Santos City, Glan is considered the top tourism destination in Sarangani and is marketed as the “Boracay of the South.”      For tourists from within Soccsksargen, they need to present the DVY Cares quick response code that can be accessed at www.glan.ph and the booking confirmation slip from the resort they will be staying in.      For those from other regions, they need to present medical certificates aside from these two requirements.      Yap reminded visitors to always observe proper health protocols such as hand washing or sanitizing, wearing of face mask and social distancing to avoid spreading the dreaded coronavirus disease (COVID-19).      She said resorts are allowed to accommodate only 50 percent of their capacity in line with the directive of the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases .      Glan hosts the annual Sarangani Bay Festival, or simply SarBay Fest for locals, the biggest beach party in Mindanao launched in 2006.      The SarBay Fest has become the ultimate summer beach party scene in Mindanao, attracting thousands of visitors. Night-long music by popular bands and water sports-related activities are among the main features of the festival.      In 2016, SarBay Fest organizers recorded 150,000 tourists who joined the event.      Last year, the festival was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.      The event was also suspended in 2017 due to security concerns following the siege staged by Islamic State-aligned militants in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.      Glan has over two dozen beach resorts catering to different budget needs. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)

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Army hospital frontliners in CDO vaccinated vs COVID-19

March 8, 2021

A HUNDRED medical front liners at the  Camp Evangelista Station Hospital in Barangay Patag here were vaccinated Friday afternoon with CoronaVac, a vaccine against COVID-19 manufactured by China’s Sinovac Biotech.      Elsewhere in the city, inoculation also started on Friday for the 1,400 medical front liners at the Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC), the main regional referral center for COVID-19 cases.      The Army 4th Infantry Division received 300 doses of CoronaVac,  a small part of the initial batch of 600,000 doses donated the country by China. China’s donation, which arrived in the Philippines on February 28, specifies 100,000 doses are a gift of the Chinese military to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.      Army spokesperson Major Rodulfo Cordero said the medical front liners vaccinated on Friday would get their second or last dose on April 4 also at the station hospital.      Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he has secured 90,000 doses of anti-COVID 19 vaccines for the 130,000-strong Armed Forces of the Philippines and its 60,000 paramilitary personnel nationwide.      Lorenzana said this would be shipped to all Army divisions, battalions and forward military camps including Kalayaan Island, which has 50 Philippine Marines at its station.      “Vaccination is mandatory for all soldiers and personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” he told reporters here on Friday.      But Lorenzana said soldiers and personnel who do not want to be vaccinated with the Chinese-made vaccine will have to pay for the vaccine of their choice. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)

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PMI keen on having a smoke-free Philippines

February 21, 2021

An executive of Philip Morris International (PMI) said the company is on track to a smoke-free Philippines in the near future as part of its vision to provide smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke with better alternatives to cigarette. Tommaso Di Giovanni, vice president for global communications at PMI, made the statement during the 27th National Public Relations Congress held virtually by the Public Relations Society of the Philippines (PRSP).  Di Giovanni spoke about how PMI is delivering a smoke-free future. "Hopefully one day, yes," said Di Giovanni, responding to a question on whether PMI plans to stop selling cigarettes around the world.  He said, "The question is more when do we want to stop selling cigarettes, because we want cigarettes to be replaced everywhere” with better alternatives based on science.  “There’s no doubt, there’s no question.  We even had that voted by our board of directors, written in black and white, and shared with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US and reported in the US.  So definitely that is our ambition," said Di Giovanni. He said PMI believes that for smokers and for the company, “the best thing to do, now that we have products that are better choices, is to switch completely to them." he said. Di Giovanni was referring to smoke-free alternatives such as PMI’s heated tobacco product IQOS which heats, instead of burns, tobacco and in the process significantly reduces the production of harmful compounds found in smoke from burning tobacco.  “Today we have almost 18 million smokers worldwide who have switched to our heated tobacco products,” he said, adding that in Japan, more than a quarter of smokers have already switched. “Today, our leading heated tobacco product is sold in 64 countries around the globe. Almost 18 million smokers use it, and 72 percent of them abandoned cigarette completely.  We’re now expanding the portfolio because we also know that smokers have different preferences,” he said. About 25 percent of PMI’s current revenues already come from better alternatives to cigarettes, he said. PMFTC Inc., an affiliate of PMI, opened its heated tobacco stores in Metro Manila last year in a bid to reduce smoking rate in the country for the benefit of the public. Di Giovanni said that quitting smoking remains the best option, however today, there are options that are much better choice for smokers who would still choose to use cigarettes. Di Giovanni said PMI relies on science and technology to deliver this positive change,  “We've invested heavily in research and development for over a decade until in 2016, our CEO went public, and he said very clearly that our ambition was to replace all cigarettes” with better alternatives based on science as soon as possible. “We started working at products that do not burn and therefore generate significantly lower levels of harmful compounds. We call them heated tobacco.  And that has been our focus since then,” he said. PMI invested over $8 billion in research and development, scientific substantiation and early manufacturing of alternatives to cigarettes, he said. Di Giovanni said the studies by PMI on these new products have been peer-reviewed by more than 350 scientific publications, making PMI the fifth largest holder of patents filed with the European Patent office. He noted that, “99 percent of our R & D expenditures and 76 percent of our commercial expenditures are behind this huge effort to transform an industry into something that is much better, and we hope that it would not only be our company but the whole industry and the whole world that are behind it.” Di Giovanni said, however, that major challenges remain, including the need to address the massive misinformation about nicotine.  “The biggest challenge is that the vast majority of people don't know and don't understand the value of those alternatives because they haven’t been informed,” he said, adding that many people still believe that it is the nicotine that causes diseases when people smoke. “It’s not exactly right. Nicotine is addictive but it’s not the primary cause of smoking-related diseases.  Virtually all health authorities around the world say this. And it’s something that the vast majority of smokers don’t know. And if they don’t know it. They simply won’t understand the value of the new proposition,” he said. Another challenge is the need to update legislation to include innovative products such as heated tobacco which did not exist in the 1980s or 1990s.  Di Giovanni said the United States became the first country to act and change these laws to ensure there’s a review of any claim made on tobacco products that are better choice for smokers. Di Giovanni said the US Food and Drug Administration recently authorized IQOS for commercialization under a “modified exposure” order and was deemed “appropriate for the promotion of public health.”   Di Giovanni said this product is a much better alternative to cigarettes. “The vast majority of smokers either don’t quit.  In an estimate by the WHO (World Health Organization), by 2025, there will be approximately the same number of smokers as we have today. So, here is where we decided to transcend. We decided to think about what we can do to change our business and give all those smokers who would otherwise continue using cigarette a better alternative,” he said. “This is the campaign—the initiative that we’re deploying in over 60 countries worldwide. It's a rallying cry to accelerate positive change and it’s a rallying cry to encourage smokers to switch if they don't quit. It’s a rallying cry for governments. It’s a rallying cry for all to those who have a role to play—public health, academia, NGOs, the scientific communities. All of them can help accelerate the pace of change. We've already made great progress,” he said.

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Customs seizes P125M worth of cigarettes from China

February 19, 2021

THE Bureau of Customs-10 (BOC-10) has confiscated imported cigarettes estimated to be worth P125 million, according to Oliver Valiente, chief of the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS).      Valiente said they have been monitoring shipments from China leading to the confiscation of at least five container vans containing cigarettes. Each container has an approximate value of P25 million.      The first batch, three container vans, was detected by the Customs police sometime last week and the second shipment arrived at the Mindanao Container Terminal sub-port on Feb. 14, he said.      Valiente placed the estimated value of the cargo at P50 million per container van, although the BOC-10 will still determine the actual worth of the cigarettes.      He said they were ordered to monitor the vessels containing the cigarettes, whose brands were Marvels and Two Moons.      The latest cargo, he said, stopped by at the ports of Manila and Davao before proceeding to the MCT. It was subjected to a spot check on Feb. 16.      “We were able to track the vessel, and upon verification it was positive that the container vans contained cigarettes,” Valiente said.      He said the cigarettes were wrongfully declared as pieces of furniture.      Valiente identified the cargo’s consignee as LMRC said to be based in Davao City, but he said it could be possible that the group that smuggled the cigarettes has employed dummy consignees.      John Simon, BOC-10 district collector, said the information of the arrival of the illegal goods was obtained through a bilateral cooperation between the Philippines and China. “It was a government-to-government coordination that led to the detection of illegal cigarettes. We consider every information that we receive as important and worth to be verified,” Simon, who has just received an award from the United Nations, said.

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International consumer groups express concerns over foreign grant influence on FDA regulations

November 21, 2020

Over 35 national consumer organizations under the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO) sounded the alarm over foreign grants on local health regulators that may adversely affect efforts to reduce the harm caused by combustible cigarettes in low and middle-income countries including the Philippines. INNCO particularly cited the influence exerted by non-government organizations supported by Bloomberg Initiative on regulators such as the Philippines Food and Drug Administration. “There is also an element of corruption aided by the Bloomberg NGOs, who are co-opting tobacco policy through the sheer force of money. The legislators in Philippines recently questioned the conflict of interest in their FDA receiving funds from these NGOs while pushing anti-vaping policy,” Samrat Chowdhery, president of INNCO and a leading tobacco harm reduction advocate, said during the recent virtual presentation of “Burning Issues: The Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction (GSTHR) 2020” published by UK public health agency Knowledge Action Change (KAC). Chowdhery was referring to the Philippines FDA’s admission that it received foreign grants from American business interest groups Bloomberg Initiative and The Union while in the process of drafting regulation on e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs).   During an online public consultation on the guidelines for e-cigarettes and HTPs, a ranking FDA official admitted that the agency received grants from foreign anti-tobacco advocates when confronted by Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing and Deputy Speaker and Ilocos Sur Rep. Deogracias Victor Savellano.  The GSTHR report also records various kinds of opposition to low-risk products being mounted by ant-vaping organizations such as the position paper by the influential Paris-based Union which called for a ban on vaping and HTPs in LMICs.  “This is, of course, highly discriminatory, will increase health gaps between western and developing nations, and is a prime instance of the philantro-capitalism kind of thinking that is highlighted in the GSTHR report,” said Chowdhery. He said that aside from bans in LMICs, there was also a growing number of restrictions on vaping and other risk-reduced alternatives—from higher taxation and restrictions on online sales, to the new favorite of tobacco control, which is flavor bans. He said this is happening across many US states and in Europe. Chowdhery said the war was also heating up on oral nicotine pouches—a new innovation that is like snus but without tobacco and low on the harm spectrum, close to nicotine gums in risk.  “We are seeing attempts to ban them in Baltic countries and the Bloomberg network is doing the same in Africa by spreading misinformation and overstating risks without any concern that they are affordable, less risky and effective in helping smokers switch,” he said. Chowdhery noted that these bans and restrictions which prevent access or increase barriers to tobacco harm reduction are now the biggest hurdle to achieving a society in which people do not die in millions per year from the harmful use of tobacco.  The GSTHR 2020 report said that globally, 36 nations currently ban low-risk alternatives, and most of them are LMICs in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.   Chowdhery said this is alarming because almost 80% of over a billion smokers worldwide live in developing nations where most of the 8 million annual deaths from smoking are recorded. He said that in most countries where there is a ban on tobacco harm reduction products, the main argument is that it was done to ‘Save the Children’.  He said this goal, in reality, is jeopardized as there is inadequate enforcement of the ban and a black market mushrooms which is difficult to control.  “We have seen this in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and now in India. Recently, South Africa reversed its tobacco ban during Covid outbreak over concerns that the resultant black markets would be difficult to shake off,” he said. He said that ultimately, any move away from the concept of risk-differential taxation and increasing barriers to tobacco harm reduction ultimately serves to perpetuate smoking.  “It hurts the health of the country, but also causes huge financial loss as tobacco-related mortality and morbidity costs, as well as the lost man-hours, rise, and by decimating an industry which could create jobs and revenue while improving the health of tobacco users,” he said.  “This economic argument is stronger now than ever as countries struggle to cope during the pandemic—the answer isn’t in giving sops to the tobacco industry as Bhutan has done by ending its decades long tobacco ban, which was ineffective anyway, the answer is in allowing and promoting access to THR alternatives so while there is additional revenue, there isn’t additional death and disease,” said Chowdhery. He said such restrictions also violate human rights principles by denying tobacco users a means to prevent disease and early death.  “Personal liberty is built into almost all constitutions across the world, and especially when you take second-hand risk out of the equation, there remains absolutely no argument to prevent access without violating these basic principles. The failed war on drugs has led to introduction of harm reduction as among the core tenets of drug policy, and it’s time it caught on in tobacco control too,” he said. Chowdhery said despite these adverse developments, there is a glimmer of hope as science is slowly but steadily winning over ideology.  “Since the last edition of the GSTHR report in 2018, four countries have banned THR alternatives while 22 nations from various regions of the world have either reversed bans or put in place formal regulations allowing their use. The tide is turning, and I hope this trend continues in years to come,” he said.

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Navy seizes P150-M smuggled cigarettes off Tawi-Tawi

November 12, 2020

ZAMBOANGA CITY – The Naval Task Force 61 and its 3rd Boat Attack Division have intercepted a shipment of PHP150 million worth of smuggled cigarettes off Tawi-Tawi, a top Navy official said Saturday. They seized the shipment in waters off the island town of Simunul at about 9 p.m. on Friday, Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM) commander, Commodore Toribio Adaci Jr., said. Adaci said the wooden-hull vessel, M/L Nur 1, was intercepted following a tip-off on the entry of the smuggled cigarettes. He said the Nur 1 was found to be loaded with some 3,000 master cases of undocumented cigarettes with an estimated market value of PHP150 million. The boat came from Tarakan, Indonesia, and was en route to a private wharf in Indanan, Sulu. It was skippered by Sahibul Hiyang Sirajan and had an eight-man crew. “It has been the modus operandi of smugglers operating in the region to drop off their goods somewhere and utilize several smaller boats to distribute them to the different places in Western Mindanao,” Adaci said. He said the Nur 1 was escorted to the Lamion Wharf in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi for refueling and reprovisioning and would be escorted to this city for turnover to the Bureau of Customs. Appropriate charges will be filed against the owner of the cargo, the vessel, and its crew. (PNA)

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