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FDA marks gains, faces threats

Ed JavierIt looks like the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) is measuring up to public expectations and delivering on the promises it made.

Recently, operatives of the agency’s Regulatory Enforcement Unit (REU) led by former Police Chief Superintendent Allen Bantolo conducted a raid on Duty Free Fiesta Mall. The operations led to the confiscation of food items, including expensive chocolate candy products, that the raided outlets continue to sell despite the fact that these items are due to expire in a few days.

Bantolo conducted the regulatory enforcement operations following complaints from customers, including Balikbayans, that they may have been hoodwinked into purchasing buy-on-take-one-free items only to discover that they are almost expired.

The raids on the duty-free outlet and similar other outlets are reportedly part of an unrelenting campaign by FDA against counterfeit, fake and unregistered food, drugs and cosmetic products. The success of the operations of Bantolo’s unit fulfills the FDA’s commitment to rid the black market of unregistered and fake products that pose serious risks to the health of the public.

Bantolo’s successful operations underscore the massive gains that the FDA has marked since the appointment of the new FDA head, Director-General Nela Charade Puno. It also shows that Puno made a right decision at the early part of her term to get the FDA’s REU to partner with the Philippine National Police (PNP) in regulatory enforcement operations.

It will be recalled that Puno departed from the tradition of her predecessors who merely complained about the FDA’s lack of budget as the reason for its failure to protect the public from food, drugs and cosmetic products that put the public’s health and hard-earned money in jeopardy.

As the FDA marks major gains in regulatory enforcement, it faces significant threats as it performs its other functions.

A few days ago, Puno issued a statement assuring the public of full transparency in an ongoing review and reevaluation it is performing on two contraceptive products.

The assurance to the public appears to have been triggered by what appears to be a determined effort on the part of a group to portray the review process by the FDA as “lacking in transparency”. Observers suspect the accusation is meant to pave the way for a protracted legal battle just in case the FDA recertifies the two contraceptives in question.

The review on the two products is an offshoot of a Supreme Court (SC) Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) obtained by a group calling itself the Alliance for the Family Philippines, Inc. (ALFI). The SC said it will lift the TRO on the two only when and if the FDA issues a certification anew that the two do not induce or cause abortion among the women who use them.

Following the SC statement, the FDA proceeded to conduct the reevaluation. That signaled the shift of attention of ALFI to the agency and to Puno. For one reason or another, the group has started to question the FDA’s transparency and started posting such accusations in the internet.

It appears the group now wants to condition the mind of the public. ALFI seems to be peddling the impression that the FDA process should be doubted if the FDA comes up with an evaluation favorable to the two products being questioned.

ALFI is not the only group putting pressure on the FDA. Another powerful business block has been putting pressure on the agency to stop it from enforcing quality standards on products like ballpoint pens. The FDA should not be surprised if powerful interests disadvantaged by the agency’s intense campaign against fake, counterfeit and nearly-expired goods would join the cabal of FDA bashers.

Meanwhile, we hope that the group of former Chief Superintendent Bantolo would be undeterred by bashers and critics. The retired police general and the men of his REU are doing the public great service. By uncovering that racket on nearly-expired duty-free goods, he is protecting unwitting buyers, especially our returning overseas Filipino workers .

The visit to duty-free shops is a tradition among many of our OFWs and their families. Those are where they spend part of their hard-earned money. It is unjust and outright criminal that they are tricked into buying goods that will expire in a matter of days.

May we also ask the good general to put a chain of supermarkets on its radar screen.

This chain, frequented by the wealthy among us, also reportedly sells buy-on-take-one chocolates that are due to expire in a matter of days.

Our countrymen should not be made the dumping ground for these expiring goods.

We hope we can continue to count on Bantolo and his men to spare our countrymen from the perpetrators of this racket.

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