MANILA (UPDATED)- The decision of the Duterte administration to no longer receive conditional aid from the European Union (EU) does not mean severing ties between the Philippines and the bloc, senators said Thursday.
Senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said that while the rejection of aid from the EU was a prerogative of any independent state, it should not be a reason to strain long-standing ties.
“This decision does not mean that we are forsaking the economic ties we have built over the years with the EU. The Philippines will always be willing to build meaningful trade relations with any State or regional organization that is willing to deal with us in good faith, as peers and equals,” Gatchalian said in a statement.
Gatchalian, chair of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs and a member of the majority, said EU aid that the Philippines would turn away was “a price the Philippines can afford to pay in pursuit of truly independent foreign and economic policies.”
European Ambassador Franz Jessen has confirmed Manila's decision to no longer accept development aid from the bloc, noting that it would mean the loss of about 250 million euros (P13.89 billion) worth of grants mostly allocated to Muslim communities.
Malacañang meanwhile clarified Thursday that the new policy only covered conditional aid that might interfere with the country's internal affairs.
Pangilinan on the other hand called on the government to make the most of existing and ongoing EU programs for the benefit of local communities and ensure backup funding to avoid a disruption of these programs.
“What government needs to do is to act swiftly and ensure that all existing and ongoing European Union aid programs benefiting our people in the local communities do not suffer when the aid is pulled out. The administration must then provide these ongoing
projects with sufficient government funding,” he said in a separate statement.
Pangilinan, a member of the minority bloc, said the EU’s expression of concern over the war on drugs, including the detention of Sen. Leila De Lima on drug charges, should not be viewed as a “step back” in Manila’s ties with Europe.
Sen. Bam Aquino, also minority senator, said the decision to stop receiving aid from the EU “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 said.
Aquino also called on the government to be more transparent on its foreign policy direction, especially in dealings with other countries in terms of aids and loans.
"Kailangang maging malinaw ang pamahalaan sa taumbayan ukol sa direksiyon nito sa foreign policy. Filipinos deserve to know dahil sila ang direktang maaapektuhan, lalo na sa trabaho, negosyo at presyo ng bilihin," he said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros echoed Aquino's remarks, saying "contradictory and confusing statements" of the government to reject aid from the EU were "alarming."
"These expose the government's lack of a clear foreign policy framework on how to deal with foreign aid. I strongly suggest that the government think this over carefully," said the lawmaker, also from the minority bloc.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, criticized the rejection of the EU aid, saying it was a "reckless and whimsical decision by the Duterte administration."
"Instead of being arrogant and hateful, as president of a developing country, Duterte ought to be grateful that there are donor countries that are concerned about the plight of our countrymen and are willing to help us," Trillanes said.
Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo meanwhile downplayed the possible negative effects of the aid rejection to the government's humanitarian work, saying they have partnerships with bilateral agencies.
"Kung ano instructions ng President susunod kami. So far, no instructions from [the] president. Kung may impact man, ang bulto (ng budget) galing sa GAA (General Appropriations Act), ibig sabihin sariling pera," she said.
The EU is one of the sharpest critics of President Duterte's war on drugs.
Earlier this year, a monitoring team from the bloc arrived in Manila to review whether the Philippines could still qualify for trade incentives pre-conditioned on compliance with international agreements, including those on human rights.
Duterte for his part, has repeatedly fired back at the EU, saying western countries should not be imposing their values on the Philippines.
-with a report from Zen Hernandez and Sherri Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News