Senators air concern over the Philippines' rejection of EU grants

by Maila Ager

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Several Philippine senators voiced concern over the decision of the Duterte administration to reject aid from the European Union. 

Several senators expressed their concern on Thursday over the administration’s decision to reject financial aid from the European Union (EU).

Senator Bam Aquino, assistant minority leader in the Senate, called on the government to be “transparent and clear” on its independent foreign policy following its refusal to receive financial aid from the EU.

“The government should make it clear to the public regarding its direction on foreign policy. Filipinos deserve to know because they are directly affected especially in the aspect of jobs, businesses and commodities,” Aquino said in a statement.

The senator was reacting to the Duterte administration’s decision to reject 250 million euros worth of development aid from the EU as it might be used to interfere in the internal affairs of the country.

“The way things are going, it seems the Palace is the only one in the know on the details they wish to pursue this issue with,” he added.

President Rodrigo Duterte has openly attacked the EU for criticizing his administration’s brutal war on illegal drugs.

Aquino said the administration’s refusal to receive aid seemed like a contradictory move to its proposal to raise taxes.

“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?” the senator asked.

Senator Risa Hontiveros said the administration’s “contradictory and confusing” statements on its decision to reject aid from the EU were “alarming.”

“These expose the government’s lack of a clear foreign policy framework on how to deal with foreign aid. I strongly suggest that the [administration] think this over carefully,” Hontiveros said in another statement.

“The fact that it is at a loss for a coherent explanation for this unprecedented foreign policy decision should serve as basis for it to pause for deep reflection and reconsideration.”

Hontiveros said the principle of rejecting foreign aid with “unfair conditionalities” should apply not only to the EU but to all loans the country has entered into with other nation-states and international financial institutions.

These include, she said, the billions of dollars in loans recently acquired from China.

The lady senator advised the Duterte administration to approach the matter in a “judicious and diplomatic manner with due consideration to the longstanding relationship the country has had with the EU” and its impact on the country’s anti-poverty programs.

“Without the benefit of wide-reaching consultations with the legislature and economic managers on foreign affairs, trade and the economy, this decision could severely undermine legitimate aid-funded programs and services to poor and conflict-hit regions in the country,” Hontiveros said.

“It could also needlessly strain our relationship with our biggest trading partner and send the wrong message to the global community that we are abandoning the principle of multilateralism as part of Philippine development policy,” she added.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said the decision to reject the EU was another “reckless and whimsical” judgment by the Duterte administration.

“Instead of being arrogant and hateful, as president of a developing country, Duterte ought to be grateful that there are donor countries that are concerned about the plight of our countrymen and are willing to help us,” said Trillanes known critic of President Rodrigo Duterte.

While recognizing the prerogative of any country to reject help from other nations, Senator Francis Pangilinan urged the government to “act swiftly and ensure that all existing and ongoing EU aid programs benefitting our people in the local communities do not suffer when the aid is pulled out.”

“The administration must then provide these ongoing projects with sufficient government funding,” Pangilinan, an opposition member and president of the Liberal Party (LP), said in a separate statement.

He also expressed hope that the EU’s expression of concern over the war on drugs, including the incarceration of Senator Leila De Lima, should not cause the Philippines “to step back in our relationship with EU.”

De Lima, an LP member, has been charged and detained over alleged involvement on illegal drugs.

Hontiveros, Trillanes, and Pangilinan are all members of the Senate minority group.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, meanwhile, believes the loss of foreign aid from the EU was a price the Philippines could afford to pay in pursuit of truly independent foreign and economic policies.

“However, this decision does not mean that we are forsaking the economic ties we have built over the years with the EU,” Gatchalian, chair of the Senate committee on economic affairs, said in another statement.

“The Philippines will always be willing to build meaningful trade relations with any State or regional organization that is willing to deal with us in good faith, as peers and equals,” he added.