Thursday, December 14, 2006

Lawyer defending Philippines baby food regulations assassinated

Today we received the shocking news that the government lawyer defending the Philippines baby food regulations from an attack by the baby food industry was assassinated last week. Assistant Solicitor General Nestor J. Ballocillo had worked on other high profile cases affecting the fortunes of powerful vested interests so it is by no means certain his murder was linked to the court case.

However, according to the Philippines Daily Inquirer today:

Solicitor General Antonio Eduardo Nachura said that the killing of Ballocillo—as well as his son Benedict—may have something to do with the expropriation of the controversial Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminal 3 (Naia 3) and the Milk Code case that the elder Ballocillo was handling.... In linking the Milk Code case to his death, Nachura described Ballocillo as an advocate of 'breastfeeding.' 'Nestor came out very strongly in these cases since he is an advocate of breastfeeding.'

You can read the full article at

As well as these cases the lawyer: "also helped in the recovery of hundreds of millions of dollars in the Marcos ill-gotten wealth cases."

If the murders are linked to a case he was or had been involved in it could have been any of these. What is striking is that the Solicitor General believes the Milk Code case could have been the reason for his killing. This says a great deal about the politicisation of infant feeding in the Philippines and the insecurity activists must feel in campaigning. No wonder they have asked for international help.

The Philippines is a dangerous country to be a campaigner. I frequently receive information about trade unionists being killed in the Philippines. You may recall in September I interviewed Luz Baculo, General Secretary of the PAMANTIK trade union about the first anniversary of the assassination of Diosdado Fortuna. He was killed shortly after leaving the picket line at a Nestlé factory. The union has been in dispute with Nestlé over its refusal to abide by a Supreme Court ruling to negotiate on pension rights. Luz was unable to give a landline number for the interview and was fearful of returning to the trade union offices. You can hear the interview at

Nestlé is not involved in the court case in the Philippines. Its opposition to the new regulations is more subtle. It claims publicly to support the measures, while being opposed to key provisions, such as the ban on promotion of products for use by children up to two years of age.

The baby food industry is a multi-billion pound enterprise. In the Philippines it is big business. While we can hope there is no connection with this terrible double murder, there remains the stark statistic issued by the World Health Organisation in the Philippines: 16,000 children die every year because of inappropriate feeding. Knowing full well the impact of unsafe feeding, the companies continue to push their products to increase sales and their profits.

The toll of unnecessary deaths tells us the state of morality of the industry. It has called in the US Chamber of Commerce to try to convince the President to interfere in the court case by threatening US investment in the country. Perhaps it should not be so surprising that the Solicitor General suggests there may be a link between the Milk Code case and the killing of the lawyer who was once his student.

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