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Snubbing EU grants

It is no secret that President Rodrigo Duterte is not a fan of the United Nations and the European Union. He has lambasted these bodies from the get go.

Last Thursday, his spokespersons announced that this administration is rejecting grants from the EU. This was confirmed by EU Ambassador to the country Franz Jessen. According to the Ambassador, they received word (there was no document yet) that the Philippines is ending its funding agreement with EU. Jessen stated that for this year, such grants amount to about 250 million euros or P13.85 billion. It was also mentioned that a big part of this is meant for the benefit of Muslim communities.

Wanting to understand the administration’s reason/s for this decision, I read the transcripts of Presidential Spokeperson Ernesto Abella’s exchange with the media. Despite repeated questions and requests to name concrete projects affected by the decision, Abella just kept on repeating that the decision only affects programs that can interfere in the country’s internal affairs.

He also said that the recommendation to reject these grants came from the Finance department. Surprisingly, National Economic and Development Authority Director General Ernesto Pernia said that they were not consulted about the decision. Certainly, Neda is a most relevant body concerning this.

Abella actually did not say anything more than what was already earlier said when the announcement was made.

Why should people be concerned?

First, the EU is one of the Philippines’ biggest donors. In the aftermath of “Yolanda” (“Haiyan”), the combined donations of the EU and individual member countries amounted to $40.47 million, or around 11 percent of all foreign aid received. This was also the second-biggest donation for people affected by “Yolanda.”

In 2015, the EU announced that it would double the aid to the country in the next seven years. In fact, EU and Neda signed the Multi-Annual Indicative Program for 2014 to 2020. The priority themes were improving the rule of law, sustainable energy, and job generation. It will be interesting to know if the entire MIP will be scrapped because of this administration’s decision to stop accepting EU grants. Notice that EU grants are almost always about benefiting people and not just infrastructure.

Second, based on available data, the EU is the fourth biggest trading partner of the Philippines. There are numerous businesses of EU member States here and an unsteady relationship with the Union may affect businesses, and of course their workers.

Third and not the least important, people should be concerned because what Malacañang people are not directly saying, is that this decision is related with human rights. EU is a critic of this administration’s human rights record particularly on the issue of “war on drugs-related killings” estimated to be more than 9,000 now.

It will be remembered that Duterte’s displeasure over EU is because of human rights. He said that he did not care if EU and UN pulled out their assistance to the country because of his war on drugs. Last March, the EU Parliament called for an investigation into “unlawful killings and other violations relative to the war on drugs” here. We heard Abella tell media that the reason for not accepting grants from EU is to prevent “interference in the country’s internal affairs.” Notice that a priority theme of the MIP is “improving the rule of law” and there cannot be rule of law when thousands were unlawfully killed. Most possibly, the “interference” referred to by Duterte’s men has to do with the “rule of law” theme of the MIP. They cannot, or do not want to adhere to this.

The rule of law should actually be a given. However, this has to do with respect of human rights, something that many in this government are allergic to. I will not be surprised if this theme is what Duterte and his men find objectionable.

The irony is, as said by EU Amb. Jenssen, the Philippines is a signatory to 27 United Nations’ labor and human rights Conventions. As a signatory, the country accepts the responsibility of promoting and respecting human rights. Thus, when programs and grants are developed and agreed upon, these are in the pursuit of COMMON GOALS of the parties involved. These are NOT conditionalities, and certainly, NOT interference. The EU is, in effect, assisting the Philippines fulfill its international obligations.

I am familiar with how the EU and EU countries’ grants work, especially those that deal with NGOs. Always, projects are about the respect and promotion of human rights as contained in international agreements. Always, the parameters are clearly agreed upon. I have a relatively good idea of how the EU’s development programs are implemented. It is always with full respect for the capacities of its partners, whether governments or nongovernment organizations. I have yet to hear of an instance when the EU or its members actually interfered in the implementation of a project unless there were questionable or anomalous activities. This is normal; it is done by any other development organization.

It is time to scrutinize the Mutual Annual Indicative Program (MIP) because I am convinced that the theme of “improving the rule of law” is the one being objected to by this government. The MIP was signed during the last administration and covers the period 2014 to 2020, or four years of Duterte’s presidency.

If I am correct, the decision to terminate receiving grants from the EU is really about the rule of law and human rights. It would appear that this administration does not intend to be accountable and to fulfill its human rights obligations as contained in international covenants the country has signed.

In effect, snubbing grants from EU is snubbing government accountability and people’s human rights. We must all be very worried.

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@bethangsioco on Twitter 

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Topics: President Rodrigo Duterte , United Nations , European Union
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