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PHL still seeks European Union aid, only with no strings attached

Posted on May 22, 2017

THE PHILIPPINES hopes the European Union revives an offer to provide development grants -- but this time without conditions linked to the country’s human rights record, according to Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez.

“We believe that to help a friend and provide aid it must be without conditions,” Mr. Lopez said in an interview late Saturday at a meeting of Asia-Pacific trade ministers in Hanoi, Vietnam.

“We would appreciate all aid but we would just request that there be no conditions,” he said. “We would simply not want to be questioned and we follow the principle of non-interference and independence in foreign policy.”

The Philippines has told the EU it will no longer accept new development grants, which could mean foregoing around 250 million euros ($280 million) in assistance, unless they come with no strings attached. The EU has criticized President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s war on drugs, which has led to the deaths of thousands of suspected dealers, and his planned reintroduction of capital punishment.

In a televised speech on Friday, Mr. Duterte said his government refused the aid because it was given with the condition “to promote human rights.” Accepting it would give the EU the right to interfere in domestic affairs, he said.

Still, Mr. Lopez said he didn’t think ties with the EU were deteriorating. He also said existing projects wouldn’t be affected.

But there are questions over what is known as the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), which provides the Philippines and other developing countries with tariff-free access to the EU for some exports as long as they comply with international agreements, including a commitment against the death penalty.

“We hope it would still be insulated, would still be maintained, because that is more a transactional, that is a commercial arrangement,” Mr. Lopez said.

“It benefits us but we believe this also benefits the EU in return as our exports get to enter the EU market duty-free and it offers definitely a cheaper source of products for consumers as well as cheaper inputs for manufacturers in the EU.”

Mr. Lopez said Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs retained strong backing at home.

“This fight against drugs, we all believe it’s a program that will try to bring back order in the Philippine society, that will save many lives of children, of victims of heinous crimes because of drugs,” he said. “We are seeing for the first time that there’s a leader who is really trying to address this big problem that the Philippines has.”

Last Friday, Alan Peter S. Cayetano, the country’s top diplomat, said Philipines’ relations with the EU could be a “rocky, rollercoaster ride” after the country’s decision to decline the aid package.

“We have good relations with the EU, but it’s going to be a rocky period, or a rollercoaster ride,” the Foreign Affairs chief said, adding that he would meet the EU ambassador next week when he returns from an overseas trip.

“We will try to navigate this rollercoaster ride together.”

Mr. Cayetano said on Friday the Philippines could still accept the aid if the EU removed its conditions and started supporting Mr. Duterte.

Mr. Duterte has deployed bellicose, absolutist rhetoric in defiance of the West. His rejection of the EU aid is the first concrete step towards his promised shunning of aid and investments from countries worried about his crackdown.

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

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

“The ball actually is now in the hands of the EU,” Mr. Cayetano on Friday added. -- Bloomberg and Reuters