U.S. stops aid package to PH over rights concerns

(UPDATED) The country’s socioeconomic planning chief, however, says he ‘won’t lose sleep’ over the loss of the grant

Rappler.com
Published 5:14 PM, December 15, 2016
Updated 8:18 PM, December 15, 2016

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The United States has not renewed a major aid package to the Philippines because of “significant concerns” about the rule of law under President Rodrigo Duterte, the US embassy said on Thursday, December 15.

“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 Agence France-Presse after the country was not selected for a new Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant.

The previous 5-year grant, which was worth $433.9 million, expired in May this year.

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 US has been a vocal critic of Duterte’s war on drugs, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives since he took office nearly 6 months ago.

The criticism, including from US President Barack Obama, has severely strained ties between the longtime allies.

Duterte has in response told Obama to “go to hell,” while seeking to establish closer ties with US rivals China and Russia.

The MCC announced on Wednesday, December 14, that new grants had been given to Burkina Faso, Sri Lanka, and Tunisia.

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.

Won’t ‘lose sleep’ over deferment

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, chief of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), said that he “wouldn’t lose sleep” over the loss of the grant.

“I am not really too worried about the MCC. What is the MCC? In terms of value, it’s around $430 million,” Pernia said during the NEDA’s year-end briefing.

“It’s really more symbolic in terms of the confidence of those behind the MCC, rather than that thing having a real impact on the economy,” Pernia said. “It’s not going to be anything of significance. And given the amounts of investments that many countries are interested in putting in, I wouldn’t lose sleep over that.”

Pernia said NEDA is meeting with other development partners, such as the Asian Development Bank and World Bank, and other foreign governments such as China, Japan, and South Korea.

“They are all in search for projects, they don’t want to be left behind in terms of participating in this big push over the next 6 years. I don’t think they would link their programming to whatever MCC would say,” said NEDA Undersecretary Rolando Tungpalan.

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.

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-defense 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, which Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said is not illegal as killing criminal suspects “could be done in a justifiable cause, circumstances.” (READ: Duterte killing of suspects not illegal – Aguirre) – With Agence France-Presse / Rappler.com