Duterte to ban public smoking; giant rehab center to open soon

A Filipino uses an electronic cigarette outside a mall in Manila, Philippines on Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 12 October 2016
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Duterte to ban public smoking; giant rehab center to open soon

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will this month ban smoking in public, the health department said Wednesday, further strengthening some of the toughest tobacco regulation in Asia.
The firebrand leader has waged a ruthless law and order campaign since July that has left more than 3,000 people dead while, as a long-time mayor of the southern city of Davao, he imposed curfews on minors and banned public alcohol sales at night and shirtless men.
The upcoming law is in addition to legislation banning tobacco advertising and regulating smoking in indoor public places, as well as a statute that requires graphic images of smoking health hazards to be printed on cigarette packaging.
“There has been a significant reduction in smoking, but the reduction has been slow,” Assistant Health Secretary Eric Tayag told AFP.
“We want to have in place all the tools that are needed to expand this campaign,” he added.
Tayag said the new drive was prompted by Duterte who, in 2002, banned smoking in all public places in Davao.
The World Health Organization said 20.6 percent of the Philippine population smoked as of 2013, 10 years after the tobacco regulation act was passed.
The country of 101 million also remained one of 15 nations worldwide with a heavy burden of tobacco-related ill health, the WHO said. The existing law bans smoking in indoor public places including government buildings, hospitals and schools as well as public transport.
Bars and nightclubs are required to set aside designated smoking areas, but smoking outdoors is not regulated.
Tayag said the planned executive order would plug that gap by only allowing smoking outdoors at the back of buildings “where there are no people.”
It will authorize municipal and city governments to impose penalties that could include prison terms, fines, community service or a combination of the three, he added.
Separately, the Philippines on Wednesday announced plans to open in November what it called a “mega” drug rehabilitation facility, funded by a Chinese tycoon, to treat up to 10,000 patients in Duterte’s war on drugs.
The news comes six days ahead of a visit to Beijing by Duterte, accompanied by hundreds of businessmen, as he seeks to forge closer ties with the Asian giant and daily airs his dissatisfaction with traditional ally the United States.
Several thousand people, mostly small-time drug users and dealers, have died at the hands of police and suspected vigilantes since Duterte took office on June 30, promising to eradicate the drug menace.
The center, located in a military camp north of the capital, Manila, was paid for by Chinese philanthropist and real estate developer Huang Rulun, whose net worth Forbes magazine has estimated at $3.9 billion.
Separately, the government has formally invited a UN rights rapporteur to investigate the thousands of killings during Duterte’s war on crime, a presidential spokesman said Wednesday.


Thai protesters march in Bangkok, police set up barriers

Updated 5 min 58 sec ago
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Thai protesters march in Bangkok, police set up barriers

  • Government House and surrounding streets have been declared a no-go zone by police for the opposition march marking four years since a May 22, 2014 coup
  • The junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order, is facing a public perception crisis
BANGKOK: Anti-government protesters began marching in Bangkok on Tuesday from a university in the Thai capital to Government House to demand that the military government hold a general election by November.
Government House and surrounding streets have been declared a no-go zone by police for the opposition march marking four years since a May 22, 2014, coup and have warned protesters not to defy a junta ban on public gatherings.
Police set up barriers along some roads near the university and carried out security checks on Tuesday.
More than 100 demonstrators walked in a line behind a truck with loudspeakers as police looked on, according to Reuters reporters at the scene.
One of the protest organizers, Sirawith Seritiwat, also known as Ja New, said protesters planned to march peacefully.
“I hope they will let us walk out. We have no intention to prolong today’s activities. I think they will try to stop us ... we will not use violence,” Sirawith said.
Police said around 200 protesters had gathered.
“Authorities will use the law 100 percent. If they walk out we will use the law immediately. We have put forces all around Government House ... if they come in to these areas there will be a prison sentence of up to 6 months,” deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul told reporters.
“Police have no weapons. They are carrying only batons,” he said.
Activists complained of a military crackdown ahead of the gathering.
On Monday, Sunai Phasuk, Thai researcher at the New York-based Human Rights Watch group, said two activists had been held incommunicado at a secret detention center.
“Their alleged ‘crime’ is providing loud speakers for anti-junta rally,” Sunai wrote on Twitter.
They were later released.
The junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order, is facing a public perception crisis, according to international and domestic polls that say corruption is as endemic as ever.
The government has also repeatedly delayed the general election, which was first tentatively set for 2015, with the latest date now February 2019.
Some fear the date could be pushed back again.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters gathered at Government House the protesters were welcome to send a representative to the prime minister’s office.
“The prime minister works hard ... the NCPO these four years has worked every day ... All NCPO members have worked hard,” Prawit said.
Suchada Saebae, 55, a market vendor, disagreed.
“I came since 6 a.m. this morning because I think the NCPO has done a rubbish job these past four years,” Suchada said.
Some protesters held Thai flags and others held signs with cartoons of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha as Pinocchio.
Protests against military rule have taken place intermittently in Bangkok since the start of the year.
Some of them have been led by young activists. Others have been attended by former “red shirts,” or supporters of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in 2006 and fled abroad.
His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was ousted in the 2014 coup and also fled abroad before being convicted in absentia of corruption.
Thailand has been rocked by pro- and anti-government street protests for more than a decade, some of them deadly.
The military says it carried out the 2014 coup to end the cycle of violence.