Reconsider withholding aid, US urged
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III on Friday said he hoped the US aid agency Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC) would reconsider its decision to put on hold funding for a second Philippine antipoverty program under the administration of incoming US President Donald Trump.
Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. also said he hoped the MCC would reconsider the decision, but added that the United States should give the aid without conditions.
The MCC, a US poverty reduction agency, on Thursday said on its website that its board had “deferred a vote on the reselection of the Philippines for compact development, subject to further review of concerns around rule of law and civil liberties.”
The decision came after President Duterte said in a speech to businessmen on Monday night that as mayor of Davao City, he would patrol on a big motorbike hunting for criminals to kill to set an example for police to follow.
“Those comments are deeply troubling, and they certainly are at odds with the Philippine government’s stated commitment to due process and rule of law,” White House spokesperson Josh Ernest told reporters.
Ernest reiterated US concern about extrajudicial killings in Mr. Duterte’s brutal war on drugs, which has taken the lives of nearly 6,000 people in just six months.
In Manila, US Embassy press attaché Molly Koscina said on Thursday that the MCC would continue to monitor unfolding events in the Philippines, but like all country partners, it needed to demonstrate “commitment to the rule of law, due process and respect for human rights.”
The MCC’s first five-year $434-million compact with the Philippines closed in May.
The grant went to the modernization of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, expansion of a Department of Social Welfare and Development antipoverty project and rehabilitation of a major road network on Samar Island.
The Philippines had been slated for another aid package, but the almost-nightly killings in Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs and his cursing critics of the human rights violations got in the way of approval.
Committed to rule of law
“We have received the news about the MCC’s decision. We thank them for the grant that the Philippines received under the first compact as we reassure them and the rest of our development partners that the government continues to vigorously implement initiatives that reinforce the Duterte presidency’s commitment to good governance, peace and order and the rule of law,” Dominguez said in a statement on Friday.
Dominguez, head of Mr. Duterte’s economic team, said he found the MCC decision puzzling, pointing out that an MCC scorecard released just last month showed that the Philippines garnered passing scores in 13 of the 20 indicators, including control of corruption, rule of law and civil liberties—an improvement from last year’s performance, with the country clearing 12 indicators.
Dominguez, however, said he hoped the MCC board would clear the second grant to the Philippines when it meets in March under the Trump administration.
“When President Duterte recalled his recent phone conversation with US President-elect Donald Trump, the American leader wished Mr. Duterte well on his campaign against drugs and said he understood the way that Duterte was handling it,” Dominguez said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs, responding on Thursday to the MCC’s move, said: “The government remains committed to the goals to foster good governance and the rule of law in the country, and will continue to engage the MCC board to ensure that accurate and updated information on government policies and programs are provided to its members.”
On Friday, Yasay told reporters while in Singapore accompanying Mr. Duterte on a visit to the tiny city-state, that the United States should not decide on the MCC grant on the basis of “alleged violations of human rights.”
“If they … really like to help us on the basis of our needs, they should … give it to us … without conditions,” Yasay said.
“But unfortunately … in recent months … they have raised concerns about … alleged violations of human rights that they have based simply on unverified reports,” he said.
“We would hope that America would try to reconsider this. This has always been our appeal to America. Treat us with mutual respect, and treat us as a sovereign equal,” he said.
Yasay said the Duterte administration was trying its best to tackle allegations of human rights violations in the war on drugs.
“But we would like to make sure that if this is merely a ploy, this is merely to bow down to their demands, we will not do it,” he said.
“If they don’t want to help us, we’ll accept that,” he said.
Can live with less aid
Mr. Duterte’s economic planning secretary, Ernesto Pernia, played down the MCC move, saying the government could live with less aid from the United States.
“It’s not going to be anything of significance. And given the amount of investments that many countries are interested in putting in, I would not lose sleep over that,” Pernia said on Thursday after news of the MCC move reached the administration.
He said the Duterte administration, which has pledged to raise infrastructure spending to help lift economic growth, could tap other sources of financing in the region, including the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
The Philippines could raise between $200 million and $500 million in loans annually from the AIIB to fund infrastructure projects, a senator said last week, after the Senate ratified the country’s membership of the China-backed institution. —WITH REPORTS FROM JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE AND THE WIRES
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