Palace: Refusal of aid ‘with conditions’ attests PH independence
The Duterte administration has stopped accepting aid “with conditions” from the European Union (EU) to assert the Philippines’ independence as a nation, Malacañang said on Thursday, May 18.
According to Philippine Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, the administration has decided to reject new EU grants to “prevent” the latter from “interfering” with the internal affairs of the Philippines.
“To enable them not to interfere with our internal affairs. We’re supposed to be an independent nation,” Medialdea told reporters.
This could mean a loss of about €250 million or $278.73 million worth of grants, which are mostly allocated to peace processes in Mindanao, according to EU Ambassador Franz Jessen.
“The amount possibly concerned by the new decision is 250 million euro plus. For this year the amount affected could be 100 million euro,” the ambassador said.
Spokesperson Ernesto Abella, however, clarified that the Philippine government would only refuse new grants from the EU which “impose certain conditionalities that will interfere with the way we handle things, that we consider objectionable.”
“These grants pertain to particular projects or programs that have the potential of affecting the autonomy of the country,” Abella said in a media briefing.
He also clarified that the Philippines would still accept development assistance, which is given unconditionally.
“We’ll take it on a case-to-case basis. We can accept or respectfully decline that which we find objectionable,” he said.
Existing development assistance from the EU will not be nullified either. “In other words, if it’s already accepted, we will assume that—we will assume that that can continue unless further specified,” he added.
According to Abella, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the recommendation of the Department of Finance (DOF) not to accept grants from the EU “that may allow it to interfere with the internal policies” of the country.
The DOF made the recommendation after the EU “recently” offered a conditional grant that seemingly affects the Philippines’ internal affairs, he said.
Abella, however, refused to specify the grant, explaining that it was a “delicate matter.”
Likewise, Abella underscored that the Philippine government “reserves the right to accept loans and grants that help attain its objectives of promoting economic development inclusiveness and reducing poverty, attaining peace within its borders and with its neighbors, and fostering a law-abiding society.”
“It also reserves the right to respectfully decline offers that do not achieve these goals and offers that allow foreigners to interfere with the conduct of its internal affairs,” he added.
Duterte previously dared the EU, along with the United States and other international critics, to pull out their assistance from the Philippines amid criticisms of his administration’s drug war, and alleged human rights violation and summary killings related to the campaign.
‘Not a policy’
Philippine Chief Economist Ernesto Pernia, on the other hand, insisted that the Duterte administration’s decision to reject EU grants is “not a policy.”
“No, it’s not policy. Policy is something that is more permanent. If it’s refused this year, maybe it might not be refused next year. So, only this year,” Pernia said, noting that the refusal was never discussed during Cabinet meetings.
According to Pernia, the administration may still retract its statement since Duterte is “usually open to suggestions.”
Pernia said he will discuss with other members of the administration’s economic team if they will appeal to the president to reverse the decision.
“We have to parse this carefully because you know our president has a style of doing something and then taking it back later. It’s some kind of a tactic,” he added.
The chief economist also recalled that the administration relayed its intention to reject EU assistance before the Philippine delegation went to Geneva, Switzerland for the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the status of the country’s human rights record.
Earlier this month, the Philippine government defended its drug war and other policies before the United Nations in Geneva.
“What I gathered from them was that they were able to explain the human rights situation here… So, perhaps that might help change the global perception of the EU and other countries regarding the human rights situation here,” Pernia added.
The European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) said it is “surprised” by the Philippine government’s decision to refuse further grants from the EU.
“We are taken by surprise/astonished by the recent news regarding the Philippines’ refusal to accept further EU grants,” ECCP President Guenter Taus said in a statement.
He noted that EU grants are “usually unconditional” and are given in support for various purposes, such as humanitarian.
“Perhaps there may be some confusion/mix ups here with the GSP+ (Generalised Scheme of Preferences) and/or FTA (Free Trade Agreement) Schemes. Both do usually come with clear guidelines and conditions attached, which are always mutually agreed upon and accepted upon signing of these treaties,” Taus said.
He went on to say, “In this particular case, GSP+, an agreement that covers 6,300 items for tax and duty free import into all EU countries did have some mutually agreed upon conditions attached to it, while for the FTA it is premature to speculate as it is an agreement still under negotiation.”
Taus also emphasized that grants are “designated to further improvements nationwide” and “to help alleviate poverty as well as establishing peace and order.”
Underscoring the importance of grants for the business community, Taus added that grants “greatly contribute to creating desirable conditions for businesses to thrive and spur inclusive growth as it creates much needed jobs.”
He noted that most business sectors consider “peace and order” as an “essential and integral part of doing business and attracting investments.”
“Hence grants help to expedite this very cause,” Taus concluded.