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Admission puts agency independence in doubt

Life is a series of choices, none of which are new. The oldest is choosing to be a victim. Or choosing not to. – The Accountant

An admission generally peels away at sticky issues and puts stubborn stuff to rest.

It offers a richly satisfying closure to a controversy or conflict.

All parties can then pick up the pieces, sweep away the detritus, and clean up the place as they go their separate ways and move on.

But mea culpas don’t settle everything; they are not cure-alls.

In fact, they don’t sit very well with all parties all the time.

This one is simply stunning.

Let’s face it: Admissions, especially one obtained in the course of a legislative inquiry, sometimes have dire implications to the entity or party making them.

It’s worse in the case of admission of an impropriety, unacceptable conduct or commission of a prohibited act.

In this case, the mere act of admission would not suffice,

Would contrition do?

But lawmakers conducting a congressional inquiry into a private grant sought and obtained by a state regulatory agency from private foreign foundations apparently did not detect remorse among the agency officials who admitted committing the highly questionable and unethical acts.

An unabashed Food and Drug Administration confirmed before a House committee soliciting and receiving cash grant from a US non-government organization espousing a ban on vapes and heated tobacco products in order to hire employees to draft specific regulations on these products.

The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability on Tuesday conducted its first hearing in aid of legislation 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”.

During the hearing, FDA Director General Rolando Enrique Domingo admitted that the agency applied for a grant from The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases (The Union).

Domingo said: “The Union co-manages the Bloomberg Initiative, and its major objectives” include supporting “public sector efforts to implement effective policies”.

“The Bloomberg Initiative grants program is an important component of the Bloomberg initiative to reduce tobacco use,” he stressed.

Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing, a co-author of a resolution that prompted the House investigation, said the admission raises serious concerns over the FDA’s independence and credibility.

“How come that you ask donations and grants from an international source that are against tobacco? It’s a conflict. Why not from other international sources? Why from The Union?”, she asked the FDA.

Suansing inquired about the details of the FDA funding and the purpose of soliciting a grant from The Union even as the FDA has its own funds, citing conflict of interest.

In its presentation, the FDA disclosed that a significant part of the $150,000 grant from The Union was used to hire a team of “job-order” employees responsible for developing regulatory guidelines for ENDS.

“Of course, it is given that whatever will come out in the research, whatever will be the guidelines (on e-cigarettes and HTPs) that you will come up out of the donations of that international source, you will be influenced,” the lady lawmaker said.

“This is what’s happening now. You were funded by Bloomberg, The Union. and the stand of the Union is against tobacco,” she added.

Domingo, however, maintained that the FDA was “judicious, fair, and objective” when its team was drafting the regulations for vapes and HTPs and that agency officials were listening to all stakeholders, including, the tobacco industry, which they are regulating.

Recall that on October 6 and 8, 2020, the FDA conducted public consultations on the draft guidelines for the regulation of vapor products and HTPs.

During the hearing on HTPs, an FDA official initially refused to answer Suansing’s question on the agency’s receipt of private funding intended for policy development from foreign private groups.

A ranking official, however, eventually admitted to receiving such grant after he lawmaker presented actual donor declarations from Bloomberg’s official website.

This prompted Deputy Speaker Deogracias Victor Savellano and Suansing to file a resolution to investigate the “questionable” receipt of such grant.

“We hope that through this investigation, we can better protect our independence and sovereignty so that we do not become an easy target for foreign private entities that wish to interfere with national policy,” said Savellano.

On Jan. 4 2020, the FDA posted on its website the Administrative Order 2020-0055 dated Dec. 1, 2020, which provided the FDA’s regulatory framework for vapes and HTPs despite the unconcluded public consultations on the draft guidelines.

Behold God’s glory and seek His mercy.

Pause and pray, people.

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