Solon warns against foreign NGO agents in government service

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A lawmaker has warned the government against officials and personnel who are advancing the interests of foreign private organizations with anti-vaping agenda.

Ako Bicol Partylist Representative Alfredo A. Garbin Jr. made the statement as he called on Congress to proceed with the investigation on the Philippines Food and Drug Administration (FDA) following reports that the agency received grants from foreign lobby groups while it agency was drafting the guidelines regulating e-cigarettes/vapor products and heated tobacco products (HTPs).

“The FDA must issue science-based regulations and probe into erring officials who are serving the private agenda of foreign private organizations by advancing anti-vaping policies instead of objective and workable regulations,” said Garbin.

This followed the admission by FDA officials during a public consultation in October2020 that the regulatory agency received grants from the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The latter funds The Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use Grants Program, a campaign that is dedicated to tobacco and vaping control policies which are co-managed by The Union.

On October 6 and 8 2020, the FDA conducted public consultations on the draft regulations for vapor products (e-cigarettes) and HTPs.

The public hearing, however, was postponed after several stakeholders and government officials raised issues about the lack of meaningful discussion and FDA’s failure to address the concerns of consumers and industry players.

Meanwhile, the FDA issued Administrative Order No. 2020-0055 in January 2021 without completing the public consultations on the guidelines for the regulation of vapor products and HTPs.

Concerns over potential conflict of interest emerged when FDA officials admitted receiving grants from Bloomberg Philanthropies and The Union—two lobby groups that promote bans on vapor products and HTPs in low- and middle-income countries.

“While I commend foreign private institutions that support government initiatives, I condemn moves to hijack government policy decisions. I call on the FDA to maintain its objectivity and independence and not allow non-government organizations and their agents in government to run the agency,” said Garbin.

“What is worrisome is that there is very little information on how foreign grants are being utilized, raising serious concerns on transparency and accountability of responsible government officials,” he said.

Garbin said some public officials could be personally benefitting from these foreign grants at the expense of objective, science-based and evidence-based policies.

“Beholden to benefactors, certain officials might be pushing for anti-vaping policies with absolutely no regard to science nor the rising demand for tobacco harm reduction products,” he warned.

Two other lawmakers filed House Resolution No. 1396 in December 2020 to call on the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to investigate the “questionable receipt of private funding by the FDA and other government agencies and institutions in exchange for specific and pre-defined policies directed against a legitimate industry and in complete disregard of the rights and welfare of consumers.”

The authors of the resolution—Ilocos Sur Rep. Deogracias “DV” Savellano and Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita B. Suansing earlier attended the public hearings of the FDA in October.

Garbin said that once the congressional investigation is underway, he would question if there were government officials personally benefitting from foreign grants and hold them accountable for violation of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Under Section 3 (e) of RA 3019, acts of any public officer that cause any undue injury to any party, including the government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions will be penalized.

“Monetary consideration could have motivated officials within the FDA to push for Bloomberg policies, giving a foreign private organization unwarranted advantage and influence over our national policies. This will definitely be investigated in Congress, and we call on not only the FDA but also other government agencies and institutions to cooperate with us, so we can rid our government of foreign NGO agents,” said Garbin.

Original article from Manila Bulletin:

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