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‘False pride’: Palace memo on foreign aid, loans hit

MANILA, Philippines — Opposition lawmakers took Malacañang to task over a memorandum directing all government agencies to suspend negotiations for loans and development aid with the states that voted for a United Nations resolution placing the Philippine human rights situation under international scrutiny.

The country’s top diplomat, however, in social media posts on Friday and Saturday, defended the Palace order, saying the forgone assistance from those countries was “small time.”

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The Aug. 27 memorandum, which was signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea “by order of the President,” was in response to a July 11 resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) urging an investigation into the human rights situation in the Philippines.

The Iceland-sponsored resolution was approved by 17 other nations: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Britain, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Slovakia, Spain, Ukraine, and Uruguay. Fourteen countries voted against it, while 15 abstained.

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May justify China loans

In a statement on Saturday, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the administration was “inordinately ill-advised” in its “rejection” of the grants and loans.

“This false pride of the Duterte administration foisted to block the UNHRC probe may ostracize the Philippines from concessional foreign finance and would conveniently justify the country’s availment of Chinese loans with much higher interest rates and shorter grace periods,” Lagman said.

The congressman warned  that the Palace memorandum would “jeopardize almost half a billion dollars’ worth of financing from countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Austria and some countries from the European Union, including Spain’s first official development assistance which is already in the pipeline.”

Reinforcing suspicions

Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan said that “if the administration has nothing to hide, why is it so against an investigation? The country is digging itself into a deeper hole by this retaliation.”

“All the more is the administration reinforcing suspicions that it has been killing its defenseless countrymen, especially the poor, while letting drug lords go scot-free,” he said.

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The supposedly confidential memo became public after an image of the document was posted on the website of the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

Shortly after the Inquirer broke the story online on Friday, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo denied that the President had issued such an order.

The document — which could no longer be seen on the BOC website as of Saturday — partly reads: “All concerned officials are directed to suspend negotiations for and signing of all loan and grant agreements with the governments of the countries that cosponsored and/or voted in favor of the aforesaid resolution.”

‘DOF didn’t like them’

Defending the memorandum, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Department of Finance (DOF) had stopped getting grants from European countries “long before the failed Iceland resolution.”

“DOF didn’t like them; not worth the candle considering the amounts and the terms and the money goes mostly to consultants. Other agencies would badger me; I’d go to DOF; sneered at. Small time,” Locsin also said on Twitter on Saturday.

He also acknowledged the effectivity of the memorandum: “If it is a memo it is in effect; the amounts I hear from time (to time), nothing big. Mostly DOF’s remit. Not new; long been turning down European grants with onerous or meddling conditions.”

In an earlier tweet on Friday, which appeared to contradict Panelo’s denial of the memo’s existence, Locsin said: “Good idea. We don’t need the money; we’ve more than enough without turning to anyone outside except Japan of course whose generosity is unconditional, quick; and whose motivation is honestly to help the Philippines. The rest are tongue in cheek and negligible.”

Japan abstained from the Sept. 11 vote at the UNHRC, and China voted against the resolution. —With a report from AFP

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TAGS: drug war killings, Edcel Lagman, Foreign aid, Foreign Loans, Francis Pangilinan, Rodrigo Duterte, Teodoro Locsin Jr., UNHRC
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