A ranking member of the House of Representatives pushed for a congressional inquiry into the acceptance of grants from anti-tobacco groups by the Philippines Food and Drugs Administration which is tasked to prepare the guidelines for the regulation of vapor products and heat-not-burn tobacco products.
House Deputy Speaker and Ilocos Sur Rep. Deogracias Victor Savellano and Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing also called for the suspension of public hearings by the FDA following its admission that it received funds from foreign anti-vaping groups The Union and Bloomberg Initiative.
The FDA held virtual public consultations on proposed guidelines for the regulation of vapor products on October 6 and on HTPs on October 8. In the latest hearing, Rep. Suansing asked the FDA if they have received any funding from an international organization that an FDA official later confirmed.
Rep. Savellano, head of the tobacco-growing Northern Luzon Alliance, then called for a full-blown House investigation on the potential conflict of interest by a government regulatory body when it received money from foreign vested interest groups.
While the FDA initially denied receiving foreign funds, Suansing cited the grant given by Bloomberg as support to “the implementation of the National Tobacco Control Program (NTCP) under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA). This includes supporting the implementation and notifications mechanisms for regulating tobacco product packaging and labeling, TAPS, tobacco product content and disclosure and illicit trade.”
Confronted by Suansing’s evidence, the FDA recanted and admitted receipt of the funds. In crafting policies with national relevance, Rep. Suansing stressed the importance of transparency and fairness.
The FDA said the NTCP which is under the Department of Health is also receiving grants for the project. The FDA received a grant from Bloomberg with regards to strengthening its regulatory functions on tobacco control.
“The Union co-manages the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use Grants Program, which awards funds to projects delivering high-impact tobacco control interventions in low- and middle-income countries. In 2019 The Union launched the Global Implementation Programme, which supports cities to effectively implement tobacco control laws, and we are a key partner in STOP, a global tobacco industry watchdog. Both projects are also funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies,” The Union stated on its website.
“Isn’t this a conflict of interest because you are funded by Bloomberg for the National Tobacco Control Program? Isn’t this a conflict of interest in coming up with this regulation?” Rep. Suansing said.
Rep. Suansing noted the significance of the conditions of the said grant, saying: “This grant might have pushed the policy directions for the regulations. This is important to us.”
She demanded to have the copy of the grant from the FDA for transparency. “They are giving grants to a government agency and that is a public document, a grant to the national government through a national agency so it’s a public document,” she said.
Rep. Savellano also expressed dismay over the virtual setup of the public consultation for not having to see the people answering the questions during the discussion.
“We are here to solve something pero eto nagtatago kayo,” Rep. Savellano said, referring to FDA personnel conducting the public hearing when asked about the said grant.
“We have the right to know who we are talking to from the FDA,” he said.
Rep. Savellano pushed to cancel the public consultations and set another meeting.
“In my case, I would file a resolution calling for a congressional investigation regarding this matter. If we are not answering our questions, may tinatago tayo,” he said, adding the “FDA must not proceed until the House investigation is concluded.”