Foreign grants to FDA an ‘attack’ on PH sovereignty — lawmakers

AT least two members of the House of Representatives questioned the grants provided by foreign private organizations to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which they said were an “attack” on Philippine sovereignty.

Deputy Speaker Deogracias Victor Savellano and PBA Party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles underscored that the receipt of private funding by the FDA in exchange for policies for non-combustible alternatives to cigarettes violated the 1987 Constitution.

“Did the FDA issue specific and pre-defined policies on e-cigarettes and HTPs in exchange for funding from foreign private [organizations]?” Savellano said in a House hearing led by the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability.

“Is this the reason why the FDA, in its one-sided and less than transparent virtual public hearing, could not give the public a real opportunity to flesh out important provisions and requirements for the regulation of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products?” he added. “I called for this investigation to find out the truth.”

Savellano further criticized the FDA for crafting guidelines on e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products that were “even more restrictive” than regulations for combustible cigarettes.

“As government officials, we are expected to be fair, objective, and transparent in issuing and implementing public policies. 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 our national policies,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, who was present in the hearing, pointed out that the issue was not only about the FDA, but the sovereignty of the Philippines.

“The bigger issue here is do we allow government agencies to be influenced by monies coming from foreign private organizations? What we are looking at here is a constitutional violation, an attack on our independence itself,” he said.

Nograles revealed that several government agencies have received about US $2.5 million from The Union, including the Department of Health (DoH), the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the Civil Service Commission (CSC), among others.

Such funds were utilized for the implementation of smoke-free ordinances in local governments and other tobacco control policies, according to Nograles.

“There have been multiple instances wherein every time there is an anti-tobacco regulation that comes out of either the FDA or DoH, it coincides with grants coming from Bloomberg. [….] We cannot treat this as mere coincidence because this happened in [the course of several] years,” he said.

The Union, which is based in Paris, is otherwise known as the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease; while the Bloomberg Initiative is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies of billionaire Michael Bloomberg, which seeks to strengthen tobacco control efforts.

Aside from the funding for the issuance of policies, Nograles said the FDA reportedly accepted money from a private firm “that is opposed to a legitimate industry in the country,” and that such funds were used “to hire persons as job orders.” He added that the workers were provided with salary grades “under our laws to conduct anti-tobacco projects.”

Under Republic Act (RA) 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and RA 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, the FDA is not permitted to hire personnel on behalf of The Union, the Cabinet official said.

“I understand that the FDA is only doing their job. We are not out to lynch the FDA and other government agencies, Nograles said. “We want a healthier country, but we also want our laws to be followed.”