MANILA (UPDATE) - Malacañang on Friday clarified that there is no order expelling European Union ambassadors from the Philippines despite an earlier statement by President Rodrigo Duterte himself.
“There’s no directive to do that,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a news briefing in Malacañang.
Duterte had on Thursday afternoon blasted the EU and asked its ambassadors to leave the Philippines in 24 hours, in an apparent reaction to comments made by a 7-member delegation of international parliamentarians, including Europeans, against Duterte’s war on drugs during a visit to Manila.
The EU Delegation in Manila, however, swiftly issued a clarification denying involvement in the visit by members of the Progressive Alliance and the Party of European Socialists.
While in Manila, the international group of parliamentarians called on Duterte to stop killings in the anti-drug campaign, saying the Philippines is at risk of losing trade perks from the EU.
Following the President's statements, Abella also readily issued a clarification, saying Duterte was reacting to statements made by the 7-member delegation, not the 28-member bloc.
“The President’s expression of outrage was in reaction to statements by this 7-member delegation…which falsely portrayed itself as an EU mission,” Abella said in the press briefing.
Asked whether Duterte or the Palace would “correct” the President’s tirades towards the EU, Abella said: “I’m sure these things are being clarified to… directly to persons concerned.”
The EU headquarters said in a statement Thursday night that its delegation in Manila "has not received any such communication" expelling its envoys from the Philippines.
It said its Manila office "continues to operate and function normally, and is committed to working constructively and productively with the Philippines for the benefit of the population."
Meanwhile, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the Philippines and the EU are actually upbeat about their relations despite the bloc's recent criticisms against Duterte’s drug war.
Lopez said that in his recent meetings with some EU officials and parliamentarians, the Europeans were not critical and even offered help on improving EU-Philippine ties.
“If you talk to the real EU Parliamentarians, the officials, they are more careful eh… They don’t want to appear interfering. That’s... I guess, they’re learning also,” said Lopez, who last month traveled to Brussels to meet European legislators.
“They know that we are a small country sensitive [about] our sovereignty, and we want to protect that, and that’s why they are very careful. And they’re now… their approach is more collaborative,” he said in a presser.
Lopez also asked EU officials to not get “carried away” by the news coming from the Philippines, saying some efforts of the government in the drug war go unnoticed and that the President is against police abuses.
“We assured them na ang Presidente natin, ayaw talaga ng mga abuso na ganun. That’s why 1,000 policemen na-replace, etcetera, lahat nung efforts may investigation,” Lopez said.
“Tapos, sinabi rin natin na ang ating country… we adhere to the principle of protecting human rights,” he added.
'JUST AN OUTBURST,' SAYS KOKO
Senate President Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III meanwhile called the President's latest statements "just an outburst," saying he expects that "no such order [to expel EU envoys] is forthcoming."
"The Philippines values its relationships with all countries. We want to be and should be "the friend to all nations" especially those with long-standing relations with us like the EU countries," he said.
Pimentel said the context of the President's comments is his defense of the country's sovereignty, "and we expect to be treated as such."
"If you don't, then that's your problem, not ours. We will not submit to your dictates and whims and your other standards and "modern way" of looking at things," he said in a text message.
He said Filipinos have their own values and "way of doing things."
"In short: hinay-hinay kayo sa pakikialam niyo sa amin kasi may mga utak din kami!" he said.
Duterte has repeatedly blasted the EU in his speeches, saying its members do not understand the magnitude of Manila's drug problem. He also accused the bloc of undue interference in the Philippines’ internal affairs.
EU lawmakers who visited the Philippines in July had criticized Duterte's anti-narcotics war, citing the more than 3,000 deaths in anti-drug operations and alleged human rights violations in the country.
Amid what it believes is the EU’s interference into Manila’s affairs, the administration in May declined 250 million Euros (P13.89 billion) in fresh grants from the EU.