THE Philippines stands to lose more than P13 billion in aid from the European Union after the government rejected any form of assistance from the 28-member bloc that may allow it to interfere in the country’s internal affairs.
The move appeared to be in retaliation to recent EU warnings that it might abrogate more than 27 trade agreements given the number of extrajudicial killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on illegal drugs, government sources told the Manila Standard Thursday.
The decision to reject aid from the EU would mean the loss of about 250 million euros ($278.73 million) worth of grants mostly allocated to Muslim communities, EU Ambassador to the Philippines Franz Jessen said.
A decision was reached on Wednesday following a high-level meeting of senior government officials from Malacañang, the Department of Finance and other relevant agencies following concerns raised by the EU about human rights violations here.
A government source privy to the meetings said administration officials agreed to preempt any move by the EU to cut off aid “by refusing to receive it.”
Malacañang on Thursday said Duterte had already approved the recommendation of the Department of Finance to reject grants from the European Union that “may allow it to interfere” in the country’s internal affairs.
“We’re supposed to be an independent nation,” Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea told reporters in a text message.
In a press briefing, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said the rejection of financial assistance from EU would be done on a “case-to-case basis” and that each situation would be “viewed separately.”
The new policy won’t cover humanitarian aid that usually comes without any conditions, Abella said.
Asked what the administration considers “interference,” Abella said this would be imposing conditions that interfere with the way the Philippines handles its internal affairs.
“The Philippines 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 a law abiding society,” he said.
“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.
The Palace expressed confidence that the Philippines can stand on its own.
“Economic results tell us that we are growing and in fact, we are improving. And we can manage. We’re confident, aren’t you? I am,” Abella said.
“I think we need to gain a certain confidence in ourselves and this is exactly the kind of mentality the President wants the Filipinos to avoid, a mendicant attitude,” Abella said.
The EU delegation to Manila said the government had already informed it of its decision to reject EU aid.
Duterte, 72, has repeatedly criticized European lawmakers and the EU for condemning his drug war, which has claimed thousands of lives and led to warnings from critics of a crime against humanity.
In comments last year, he used vulgar language and raised his middle finger in a response to a European Parliament statement expressing concern over the killings.
The German government also expressed concern after Duterte last year drew parallels between his drug war and Nazi Germany leader Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust.
“Hitler massacred three-million Jews. Now there are three-million drug addicts [in the Philippines]. I’d be happy to slaughter them,” Duterte said, underestimating the number of people killed in the Holocaust.
Duterte later apologized for the Hitler reference but said he was “emphatic” about wanting to kill addicts.
Duterte easily won presidential elections last year after promising to end crime by killing tens of thousands of drug traffickers and addicts.
Police have reported killing about 2,700 people since Duterte took office at the end of June and immediately launched his war on drugs.
Unknown assailants have killed more than 1,800 others, while about 5,700 other violent deaths are under investigation, according to police data.
Partly in response to American criticism of the drug war, Duterte has also loosened the Philippines’ ties with traditional ally the United States.
He has instead embraced China, which has supported his drug war and sought to deepen economic ties by providing billions of dollars worth of investments and aid to the Philippines.
Duterte, a self-described socialist, has also forged warmer relations with Russia, and will travel to Moscow next week to meet President Vladimir Putin.
Senators on Thursday said the government must make sure poor communities do not suffer from its refusal to accept EU aid.
In the absence of aid, Senator Francis Pangilinan added, the administration must provide ongoing projects that benefit the poor with sufficient government funding.
“Just now, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said he is not taking as policy the decision of the Philippines to reject foreign aid from the European Union,” said Pangilinan.
Nevertheless, the EU’s expression of concern over the war on drugs, including the incarceration of Senator Leila De Lima, should not cause the Philippines to step back in its relationship with EU, Pangilinan said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the financial aid coming from the EU benefits mostly poor communities.
“The administration’s decision not to receive aid from Europe union may be consistent with having an independent foreign policy specially if there are strings attached to that aid,” Recto said.
“However, on the downside, we forgo financial assistance that is used to help the poor,” he added.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said the rejection of the EU aid was another example of Duterte’s “reckless and whimsical” decisions.
Insted of being arrogant and hateful, as President of a developing country ought to be grateful that there are donor-countries that are concerned about the plight of Filipinos and are willing to help, he said.
Senator Joel Villanueva said the EU could have provided “significant support” in health and education, especially in Mindanao.
Senator JV Ejercito said he believed there is no need to burn bridges with the EU.
“I am an ally of the administration but in my personal opinion, there is no need for this,” Ejercito said.
Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV called on the government to be transparent about its foreign policy directions and its dealings with other countries in terms of aid and loans.
“The administration’s refusal to receive aid seems like a contradictory move to its proposal to raise taxes. If we are refusing aid because we are self-sufficient, why are we then planning to burden our countrymen with more taxes that might raise prices of goods even higher,” he added.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, an administration ally, said the move to reject EU aid showed a significant shift in the country’s foreign policy.
He said the rejection of EU aid also speaks volumes about the President’s determined position to stand up against the traditional patrons of former colonies like the Philippines.
“I am not ready to say this early if this is the right direction…. Only time can tell if it will do our country right or not,” he said.