Philippines to reject all aid with conditions

President Rodrigo Duterte

:: The Philippines’ top diplomat has said that the government’s new policy of rejecting aid with conditions applies to all donor countries, not just the EU.

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano made the statement a day after officials confirmed that Manila had declined about €250 million (nearly $280 million) in EU grants for 2017 to 2020 because the aid “would involve review of our adherence to the rule of law.”

President Rodrigo Duterte has lashed out at the EU repeatedly for raising human rights concerns over his deadly crackdown on illegal drugs.

Earlier, he challenged the EU to stop its assistance after the bloc warned that the Philippines risked losing tariff-free exports to Europe due to the thousands of people killed in Duterte’s drug crackdown, and government moves to revive the death penalty.

Asked by journalists what other donors are covered by the aid boycott, Cayetano replied: “All countries.”

He added: “We are just telling them very respectfully that we believe in our independence. We know our problems better than you.”

Cayetano, a former senator and staunch Duterte ally who was sworn in as foreign secretary on Thursday, earlier this month defended the government’s human rights record in the UN Human Rights Council’s review of the Philippines.

Cayetano said the decision to end EU development assistance — one of the biggest amounts for the country, particularly in supporting the peace process with militants in the southern Philippines — conveys a strong message to Europe that the Philippines has an independent foreign policy.

“We have good relations with the EU but it’s going through a rocky period or a roller-coaster ride,” he said. “We are all in this ride together.”

He said he will meet with the EU’s envoy to Manila to discuss the issue and iron out some “miscommunication” after he returns from Russia, where he will accompany Duterte on a trip.

“The ball actually is now in the hands of the EU,” Cayetano added.

The EU is a leading foreign investor in the Philippines, the only member of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations to enjoy duty-free exports under the EU’s incentives for developing countries.

The Philippines’ duty-free exports to the EU were worth around €1.6 billion in 2016, according to EU delegation data.

Philippine Trade Minister Ramon Lopez said the EU should not consider imposing conditions on investments and trade as this could hurt both sides.

The EU and European lawmakers have urged the Philippines to investigate allegations of widespread summary executions and police cover-ups, which the authorities deny.

Duterte has hurled expletives at the bloc and previously said the Philippines “will not beg” donors.

“We always hear from them about the rule of law every time they see people dead on the streets. Do they want to see dead police officers instead?”

The Philippines enjoys tariff-free exports to the EU under its Generalized Scheme of Preferences.

“Zero tariff for 6,247 exports means cheaper products for their consumers,” Lopez said.

“It is a mutually beneficial agreement at the end of the day. We believe they should be insulated.”

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