MANILA – Malacañang on Thursday clarified that the Philippines was only rejecting aid from the European Union that comes with conditions that may interfere with the country’s internal affairs.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella on Thursday said that the Philippine government, upon the recommendation of the Department of Finance (DOF), would enforce the new policy on conditional grants that may touch on the country's sovereign affairs.
Abella, however, said humanitarian aid – which are usually given unconditionally –would still be accepted by the Philippines. Existing grants will continue to be implemented until otherwise reviewed by the Philippine government.
“The President has approved the recommendation of the Department of Finance not to accept grants, and this is not necessarily humanitarian aid from the EU that may allow it to interfere with the internal policies of the Philippines,” Abella said in a press briefing in Malacañang.
“These grants pertain to particular projects or programs that have the potential of affecting the autonomy of the country,” he said.
Abella explained that the DOF issued this policy after the EU offered a conditional grant that seemed to interfere with the Philippines’ internal affairs.
He refused to identify the grant, saying it was a “delicate matter.” He only said the grant was offered “fairly recently.”
Malacañang's move comes days after Duterte won billions of dollars in pledges from China after attending the Belt and Road Initiative in Beijing.
P13.5 BILLION GRANT
While Abella refused to identify the grant, EU Ambassador Franz Jessen said the Philippines' decision to cut aid from the EU would mean the loss of about 250 million euros (P13.8 billion) worth of grants mostly allocated to Muslim communities.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III meanwhile clarified in a text message that Duterte rejected the grant “which would involve [a] review of our adherence to the rule of law.”
"That specific grant that is considered interference in our internal affairs,” said Dominguez, in a text message relayed to reporters by Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said.
Abella added that all government agencies were made aware of the new policy, noting that they usually received grants on behalf of the Philippine government.
He said Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia was made aware of the DOF’s recommendation. Pernia earlier told ANC that Duterte’s decision may later be withdrawn.
DUTERTE SHUNS ‘MENDICANT’ ATTITUDE
Abella said that in rejecting grants that come with conditions, the Duterte administration is only following its policy of maintaining an independent foreign policy.
“We have an independent foreign policy… We can accept or respectfully decline that which we find objectionable,” he said.
“We need to gain a certain confidence in ourselves. This is exactly the kind of mentality the president wants to avoid, a mendicant attitude.”
The EU has been a consistent aid provider particularly in disaster response. It has also been supporting initiatives related to the Mindanao peace process.
The EU has been providing support to the country's efforts to end nearly 50 years of Muslim rebellion in a conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people, displaced 1 million and stunted growth in one of the country's resource-rich regions.
It granted the Philippines 130 million euros in development assistance between 2007-2013. In 2015, it pledged 325 million euros (P18.03 billion) over four years to finance projects in Muslim Mindanao after Manila signed a peace deal with rebels in March 2014.
The Philippines' relations with the EU took a turn as the bloc criticized President Duterte's war on drugs, drawing sharp retort from the tough-talking leader.
The EU had earlier expressed concern over alleged extrajudicial killings in the administration's anti-drug campaign, even raising the matter before the United Nations Human Rights Council in March.
According to Philippine National Police figures, 2,949 drug personalities were killed in presumed legitimate anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016, when President Duterte took his post, up to March 31, 2017.
In January, the EU warned that the Philippines may lose trade incentives tied to compliance with international commitments, including those involving human rights.