Manila snubs EU aid over criticisms of anti-drug war

MANILA (The Straits Times/ANN) - It says bloc is meddling in its internal affairs, but it will still accept humanitarian assistance.

The Philippines will no longer accept aid from the European Union, claiming that the EU "interferes" with its internal affairs.

The bloc has been criticising President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly war on the narcotics trade.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea told reporters yesterday that the government decided to forgo €250 million (S$388 million) worth of grants because the EU has been "interfering in the internal affairs" of the Philippines.

Most of that aid had been earmarked for projects meant to bolster talks to end nearly 50 years of Muslim rebellion in the war-torn southern island of Mindanao. The conflict has killed 120,000, displaced one million and stunted growth in one of the Philippines' resource-rich regions.

The EU has also been funding rehabilitation efforts in areas hit by super-typhoon Haiyan in 2013, as well as planned health sector reform.

Medialdea said the Philippines does not want "certain sectors within the EU community to continuously interfere or question our government" on issues concerning Duterte's anti-drug war.

In a news briefing, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the decision to stop accepting EU grants was recommended by the finance department.

"The Philippines reserves the right to respectfully decline offers … that allow foreigners to interfere with the conduct of its internal affairs," said Abella.

He clarified, though, that the Philippines will still accept humanitarian aid from the EU, as such assistance is "usually unconditional".

Duterte, 72, became president last year after promising to launch a bloody crackdown on crime.

Since he took office in June, police have reported killing about 2,700 suspected drug users and traffickers. More than 1,800 others have died in drug-related incidents, while over 5,700 other violent deaths are under investigation.

The EU has repeatedly expressed concern over these killings. Duterte has responded by showing the EU his finger - a rude gesture - in one of his rambling news briefings.

Duterte has denied condoning extrajudicial killings but has repeatedly threatened drug suspects with death and said he is ready to rot in jail to protect Filipinos from atrocious crimes linked to drugs.

Abella said the Philippines would review aid coming from other nations and institutions like the United Nations "on a case-to-case basis", but that Duterte saw a need to wean the nation away from relying too much on grants.

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino, of the opposition Liberal party, called on the government to be "transparent and clear" about its foreign policy.

"If we are refusing aid because we are self-sufficient, why are we then planning to burden our countrymen with more taxes that might raise prices of goods even higher?" said Aquino, nephew of former president Benigno Aquino.


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