Philippines Still Seeks EU Aid, Only With No Strings Attached

  • Manila rebuffing EU grants after links to human rights record
  • Philippine-EU ties not affected by dispute, Lopez says

Ramon Lopez.

Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

The Philippines hopes the European Union revives an offer to provide development grants -- but this time without conditions linked to the country’s human rights record, according to Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez.

“We believe that to help a friend and provide aid it must be without conditions,” Lopez said in an interview late Saturday at a meeting of Asia-Pacific trade ministers in Hanoi, Vietnam. “We would appreciate all aid but we would just request that there be no conditions,” he said. “We would simply not want to be questioned and we follow the principle of non-interference and independence in foreign policy.”

The Philippines has told the EU it will no longer accept new development grants, which could mean foregoing around 250 million euros ($280 million) in assistance, unless they come with no strings attached. The EU has criticized President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, which has led to the deaths of thousands of suspected dealers, and his planned reintroduction of capital punishment.

In a televised speech on Friday, Duterte said his government refused the aid because it was given with the condition “to promote human rights.” Accepting it would give the EU the right to interfere in domestic affairs, he said.

Still, Lopez said he didn’t think ties with the EU were deteriorating. He also said existing projects wouldn’t be affected.

Exports Help

But there are questions over what is known as the Generalised Scheme of Preferences, which provides the Philippines and other developing countries with tariff-free access to the EU for some exports as long as they comply with international agreements, including a commitment against the death penalty.

“We hope it would still be insulated, would still be maintained, because that is more a transactional, that is a commercial arrangement,” Lopez said. “It benefits us but we believe this also benefits the EU in return as our exports get to enter the EU market duty-free and it offers definitely a cheaper source of products for consumers as well as cheaper inputs for manufacturers in the EU.”

Lopez said Duterte’s war on drugs retained strong backing at home.

“This fight against drugs, we all believe it’s a program that will try to bring back order in the Philippine society, that will save many lives of children, of victims of heinous crimes because of drugs,” he said. “We are seeing for the first time that there’s a leader who is really trying to address this big problem that the Philippines has.”

— With assistance by Andreo Calonzo

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