BACOLOD - Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael 'Mike' Sueño warned on Wednesday there is a threat to cancel the $434 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant to the Philippines from the United States.
Sueño said their research revealed that the US may not release the grant to the Philippines as a sanction for alleged human rights violations committed by the Duterte administration in its continuing campaign against illegal drugs.
"That is what we've found out in our research. Hindi ko pa rin alam. But there is threat already to cancel it because this is related to human rights," he told reporters.
Asked if there is still a chance that the Philippines can "save" the MCC grant, he said: "I do not know."
The first MCC grant, amounting to $434 million, came into force in May 2011 and ended in May 2016.
Last December, the MCC said it is deferring a vote on the re-selection of the Philippines for compact development "subject to a further review of concerns around rule of law and civil liberties.”
The second grant of $434 million would have run for five years or throughout the term of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The US government set up the MCC to promote economic growth and reduce poverty around the world.
However, countries can only qualify if they "demonstrate a commitment to just and democratic governance, investments in its people, and economic freedom," according to the corporation's website.
In a press conference after the opening ceremony of the 15th Meeting of the ASEAN Senior Officials Responsible for Information (SOMRI) in the SMX Convention Center today, Sueño said certain anti-Duterte groups have been accusing government of violating human rights.
He also said there are groups or individuals who are pressuring the government to release Sen. Leila de Lima from prison.
The DILG chief said the video message of Vice President Leni Robredo during a United Nations side event is one of the reasons why the country is being sanctioned not only by the US but also by the European Union.
Sueno said 27 trade agreements of the country with the EU will also be affected because one of the conditions cited in these agreements is adherence to human rights. He said, as a sanction, tariffs may be imposed on Philippine products being sold to EU member countries.
Robredo alleged in the video released online on March 13 that targets of police anti-drug operations were allegedly beaten if they ask for a search warrant or worse, have their relatives snatched as collateral in a 'palit-ulo' scheme if they go into hiding.
Aside from Robredo, the DILG secretary refused to name the other persons or groups who are allegedly out to discredit and belittle the government's anti-drug campaign.
He said he believes the intensified attacks on the president are designed to pressure the government to free De Lima.
Sueño said he is sure that the President has the political will to continue what he has started, and not even an impeachment case can stall him.
Meantime, the interior secretary believes declaring all positions of punong barangays and kagawads vacant in October without an election is not illegal.
Sueno said the President will be filling in the vacant positions with appointees. He said this is still in line with the government's aim to rid barangays of illegal drugs.