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Lawmaker wants to rid gov’t of foreign NGO agents

A LAWMAKER called to fire officials in the government who serve as conduits pushing foreign vested interest group influence on local policies.

“While I commend foreign private institutions that support government initiatives, I condemn moves to hijack government policy decisions,” Ako Bicol Partylist Representative Alfredo A. Garbin Jr. said.

Garbin was referring to the reports that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received grants Bloomberg Philanthropies and The Union—two lobby groups that promote bans on vapor products and HTPs in low- and middle-income countries—while the agency was drafting the guidelines regulating e-cigarettes/vapor products and heated tobacco products (HTPs) raising concerns over potential conflict of interest.

“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,” Garbin said.

On October 6 and 8 2020, the FDA conducted public consultations on the draft regulations for vapor products (e-cigarettes) and HTPs. During one of the hearings, a ranking FDA official admitted that the regulatory agency received grants from the 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 is co-managed by The Union.

The public hearing 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.

Despite not completing the public consultations, the FDA issued Administrative Order No. 2020-0055 or the Regulation on Vapor and Heated Tobacco Products in January 2021.

“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,” Garbin said.

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

Ilocos Sur Rep. Deogracias “DV” Savellano and Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita B. Suansing, who were both present during the FDA public consultations 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.”

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.