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House to FDA: Give back Bloomberg’s big bucks

You can’t expect the office to do anything more than what you bring to it. – House of Cards

A sturdy shelter they can lean on.

The people still have a good reason to repose their trust in their representatives after all: decency still resides in the House they sit in.

The chamber soared to new moral heights as two of its members vigorously advised an agency of the Executive department to come clean on a foreign grant from an international lobby group with a clear, present, serious, and verifiable interest in a matter subject to its adjudication.

This case proves how easier it would have been if agencies steeped in ethical principles just turned down the offer in the first place.

Now, it has to embarrassingly return the money under pain of further legislative scrutiny and potential sanctions, including but not limited to the much-feared budgetary cuts from a thoroughly displeased Congress.

A resolution filed by ranking members of the House of Representatives urged the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory agencies to stop accepting money and return all the funds they received from foreign private groups such as The Union and Bloomberg Initiative in exchange of predefined policies, which ignore the rights and welfare of consumers.

House Speaker Deogracias Victor Savellano, representing Ilocos Sur’s First District and Nueva Ecija First District Rep. Estrellita Suansing, filed the resolution directing the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation on the alleged “questionable” receipt of private funding by the FDA and other government agencies and institutions in exchange for the issuance of specific and predefined policies against a legitimate industry under Philippine laws and in complete disregard of the rights and welfare of consumers.

“Until such time as the investigation by the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability is concluded, Congress calls on the FDA and other recipient-government agencies and institutions to cease, with immediate effect, all contact with all aforementioned foreign groups and to return any foreign monies the agencies have received,” the two lawmakers said in the resolution.

The inquiry stemmed from the admission by FDA officials, during a public hearing on October 8 for the drafting of the general guidelines on the regulation of electronic nicotine delivery systems (e-cigarettes) and heated tobacco products, that they received funding from The Union and Bloomberg Initiative which are international private groups that advocate against all forms of tobacco products, including ENDS and HTPs.

The legislators said Congress should look into the manner by which government agencies receiving foreign grants and assistance from private institutions could be held accountable for the disbursements and impact of such funds in full public transparency.

They said an investigation should be made on the manner by which the FDA public consultations were conducted and how these private funds could have influenced the same, to the detriment of good regulatory practice, the credibility of government institutions, and, more importantly, the lives and livelihoods of consumers, citizens, businesses and stakeholders.

“When sought for clarification, FDA officials initially denied receiving any funding. However, when confronted with actual donor declarations contained in the webpage of these private groups, the FDA eventually admitted to receiving such funding,” said the two House members who attended the FDA hearing on October 8.

“As the highest policy- and law-making body under the Constitution, Congress is duty-bound to ensure that any and all forms of government policies and regulations are not being driven by any vested foreign interest. Sovereignty resides in our people and not in any moneyed ideology or movement. As representatives of our people, it is our duty to ensure this,” the resolution stated.

The proponents of the resolution said that in accepting monetary consideration from anti-tobacco organizations in exchange for the issuance and implementation of targeted anti-tobacco and anti-ENDS and HTP policies, “FDA officials may be in violation of applicable laws due to their failure to inform stakeholders beforehand of the existence of such arrangement as well as the details of the same”.

The lawmakers said Article II, Section 7 of the 1987 Constitution provides that “[t]he State shall pursue an independent foreign policy” and that “[i]n its relations with other states, the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination”.

They said the acceptance of foreign funds by regulatory bodies may also be in violation of various laws such as Section 11 (3) of B.P. Blg. 39 or An Act Regulating the Activities and Requiring the Registration of Foreign Agents in the Philippines which expressly declares that it is unlawful for any public officer or employee or his spouse to act as a “foreign agent”.

“In light of the specific arrangement between these private organizations and the FDA and other recipient-government agencies and institutions, the latter may be acting as an agent of a foreign organization, in contravention of the declared state policy under B.P. Blg. 39 to ensure the protection of the national security and interest of the Philippines against foreign interference,” the solons said.

Savellano and Suansing said RA 6713 or The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officers and Employees also expressly prohibits public officials from accepting any monetary consideration in the course of their official duties or in connection with any operation being regulated by them, while RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act penalizes the act of causing any undue injury to any party, including the government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.

The two House members said they in fact received complaints from different stakeholder groups conveying their concerns on the manner by which the FDA consultations were conducted and lamenting the lack of meaningful discourse.

They also expressed concerns over how their rights and welfare as consumers are being ignored because of the FDA’s refusal to acknowledge and respond to the concerns they have been raising, even prior to the actual public consultation.

It, is therefore, incumbent upon Congress to investigate further whether any violation of RA 3019 has been committed by the FDA and other recipient-government agencies and institutions,” the resolution read.

Indeed, “here (in this House), Sir, the people rule” – even if only on account of the diligent work of two of their representatives.

Behold God’s glory and seek His mercy.

Pause and pray, people.

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