MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte’s frequent outbursts against the European Union (EU) over criticism against his fierce war on drugs does not affect the regional bloc’s ties with Southeast Asian countries, an official said Tuesday.
Duterte, who chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, has been repeatedly slamming the EU for its criticism against his anti-narcotics campaign, calling it undue interference with Manila’s domestic affairs.
Ambassador Marciano Paynor, ASEAN 2017 National Organizing Council Director General for Operations, downplayed possible implications of Duterte’s tirades against the EU on its relations with the ASEAN as a whole, saying interaction between the two blocs “has been very robust.”
Paynor added that the firebrand leader is expected to be seen as “neutral and trying to be [the] arbiter and [to] put things together” during the summit.
“[When] he is chairing, it’s a totally different hat he’s wearing. He is wearing the hat of representing all of ASEAN,” Paynor said in a news conference in Malacañang.
“And therefore, his views, country views are in a way a little bit more subtle, cannot be pushed. As much as he would have been able to push if he were sitting as part of the meeting, rather than as chair.”
European Council President Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to attend the ASEAN Summit this November, as the two regional blocs celebrate the 40th anniversary of their ties.
The President and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano earlier said the Philippines would no longer accept aid from the EU so the bloc would stop meddling in the country’s internal affairs.
Paynor said this should not affect ties between the EU and the ASEAN, as the President's statements against the bloc were made in his capacity as head of state.
"Therefore, it is a bilateral issue between the Philippines and the EU,” Paynor said.
Despite the Philippines’ rejection of all future aid from the regional bloc, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said trade ties between the EU and the Philippines remain upbeat.
The government has many times defended Duterte’s war on drugs, where about 3,800 people have died in legitimate police operations, according to police statistics.
Human rights groups estimate that the death toll in the war on drugs could be as high as 13,000, a figure dismissed by the government as overblown.
The administration has said it does not sanction summary killings of drug suspects, adding that those slain in police operations had put up violent resistance.
Despite Duterte’s intense rhetoric towards the EU, Paynor is confident that issues confronting the two sides “will be put in the background” during the ASEAN Summit.