House calls for tighter measures against foreign interference in local policy making

The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability pushed for the adoption of national policies prohibiting government agencies from receiving foreign grant without transparency and accountability and called on the Commission on Audit (COA) to conduct a full-blown audit on the money received by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from the American anti-tobacco group the Bloomberg Initiative to draft policies regulating vaping in the country.

The committee also called for air tight policies to ensure “ foreign donors” do not interfere in the country’s internal policy-making affairs.

In adopting the committee report on House Resolution 1396 that directed Congress to conduct an investigation on the FDAs questionable acceptance of money from Bloomberg, the Committee recommended the review of the FDA Act on the receipt of grants and donations from local and international sources, as well as its IRR to reflect the realities that a grant may influence the grantee.

Deputy Speaker Deogracias Victor Savellano said that he and Rep. Estrellita Suansing filed the resolution to conduct an inquiry on the FDA “to determine whether our regulatory agencies are being influenced by any foreign vested interest groups; and to initiate actions within our capacity as lawmakers to institutionalize policies to protect our sovereignty by averting such foreign meddling in our local affairs.”

It can be recalled that during the FDA’s public consultations on the draft guidelines for the regulation of vapor products and heated tobacco products HTPs in October last year, an FDA official initially denied the agency’s receipt of foreign private money to fund the development of regulations for vapes and HTPS. The agency later on recanted and admitted to have solicited and received a grant from The Union, an anti-tobacco organization financed by the Bloomberg Initiative.

After two hearings, the committee report recommended the review of the budgetary allocation to the FDA and similar agencies that are mandated to conduct research that shall be responsive to the country’s health needs and problems. 

Further, the Committee calls for an investigation by COA to determine whether the funding received by the FDA and other government agencies from foreign private organizations were properly utilized and accounted for.

It also recommended the issuance of a policy prohibiting regulatory bodies and government agencies, including LGUs, from receiving monetary grants from foreign private organizations without proper registration and disclosure in exchange for allowing these donors to operate and interfere in the formulation and implementation of government policies.

The Committee sought to review and possibly amend Batas Pambansa 39, to better reflect the new conditions obtaining due to passage of time. For example, a further clarification on the concept of “foreign agent”, “political” or “political activity” may be required, in relation to the activities of philanthropic and influential organizations, such as Bloomberg.

Among the controversial issues discussed during the House investigation was the Joint Memorandum Circular No. 2010-01 on the Protection of the Bureaucracy Against Tobacco Industry Interference., which was used as basis by the DOH to refuse acceptance of much needed respirators intended to support the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic donated by the tobacco industry. The committee urged the Civil Service Commission to immediately resolve its ongoing review of the said JMC. 

The FDA and DOH were also compelled to disclose sources of funds and to disclose potential conflict of interest in cases external assistance is received.

Rep Savellano expressed his strong support to the Committee’s recommendation to further investigate foreign organizations “to once and for all determine the extent of their influence in our government systems.” 

“As we have learned in the course of the inquiry, several government agencies, regulatory bodies and local government units aside from the FDA have been engaged by The Union and Bloomberg Initiative to promote their advocacy. Such engagements involving monetary grants must require proper disclosure and registration under the law,” he said.

A copy of this Committee Report will be furnished to the DOH, FDA, CSC, COA, and Department of Budget and Management for their information and appropriate action.