MANILA (UPDATE) – A United States agency on Wednesday said it has deferred the selection of the Philippines for a second funding grant amid concerns on the country’s human rights situation.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation said it has “deferred 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.”
"This decision reflects the Board's significant concerns around rule of law and civil liberties in the Philippines," embassy spokeswoman Molly Koscina said in a statement emailed to AFP.
The second funding grant would have run for five years and be implemented throughout the term of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The first round of funding by the MCC, worth $434 million, came into force in May 2011 and ended May 2016.
The MCC compact, aimed at reducing poverty through economic growth, “supported reforms and investments to modernize the Bureau of Internal Revenue, expanded and improved a community-driven development project, Kalahi-CIDSS, and rehabilitated a secondary national road in Samar province.”
After the completion of the first grant, the MCC Board re-selected the Philippines to continue developing a new compact.
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.
The United States has been a vocal critic of the war on drugs, with President Barack Obama in September urging Duterte to prosecute it "the right way".
The criticism has severely strained ties between the longtime allies, which are bound by a mutual defence pact.
Duterte has branded Obama a "son of a whore" and told him to "go to hell", while seeking to establish closer ties with US rivals China and Russia.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation announced on Wednesday that new grants had been given to Burkina Faso, Sri Lanka and Tunisia.
The US embassy's Koscina said the corporation's board decided to withhold a vote on whether to reselect the Philippines because of the rights concerns, although it could still be considered in the future.
"MCC will continue to monitor unfolding events in the Philippines and underscores that all country partners are expected to maintain eligibility, which includes not just a passing scorecard but also a demonstrated commitment to the rule of law, due process and respect for human rights," she said.
DUTERTE'S TRUMP CARD
However Duterte has said he is looking forward to relations improving under US president-elect Donald Trump.
Duterte said following a phone call with Trump in early December that he had received encouragement for the drug war.
"He was quite sensitive also to our worry about drugs. And he wishes me well... in my campaign and he said that... we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way," Duterte said about his call with Trump.
Philippine police have reported killing 2,086 people in anti-drug operations since Duterte took office on June 30. More than 3,000 others have been killed in unexplained circumstances, according to official figures.
Often masked assailants break into shanty homes and kill people who have been tagged as drug traffickers or drug users. Rights groups have warned of a breakdown in the rule of law with police and hired assassins operating with complete impunity.
Duterte has insisted that police are only killing in self-defence and gangsters are murdering the other victims.
But he has also said he will not allow any police to go to jail if they are found guilty of murder in prosecuting his crime war.
This week Duterte said he had personally killed suspected criminals when he was mayor of a southern city to set an example for police.
In September Duterte also likened himself to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler as he said he was "happy to slaughter" three million drug users.
After condemnation from Jewish groups, Duterte apologised for his Hitler reference but said he was "emphatic" about wanting to kill the millions of drug users.
Surveys have shown a majority of Filipinos overwhelmingly support the charismatic Duterte and his crime policies, accepting his argument that drastic action is required to stop the Philippines from becoming a narco-state.
A fresh survey by the Social Weather Stations released Thursday showed 77 percent of Filipinos were "satisfied" with his performance. - with Agence France-Presse