PHILIPPINE lawmakers have varied reactions to President Rodrigo Duterte’s reported rejection of the European Union’s P13.85 billion financial aid ranging from being a reckless move to an admirable declaration of independence from western influence.
Senator Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV said the rejection of the EU aid is another “reckless and whimsical” decision by the Duterte administration.
Trillanes advised that “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.”
Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, a Duterte ally, said the decision not to accept the billion-peso grant from EU “only shows a significant shift in the country’s foreign policy under the Duterte administration, which is apparently a declaration of independence from the influence of the west, i.e. US and EU, who are using grants and trade as the proverbial stick and carrot.”
He added that “It also speaks volumes about the President’s determined position to stand up against the traditional patrons of former colonies like the Philippines.”
Lacson, at the same time, refused to say whether the President’s rejection of EU’s money is good or bad for the country.
“I am not ready to say this early if this is the right direction of our foreign policy. Only time can tell if it will do our country right or not, or if it is all worth giving a chance to be tested.”
Lacson, however, added that “If only we do not have a territorial dispute with China, it is easier to concede that it is all worth the gamble.”
For his part, opposition Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan expressed hope that the Duterte administration has sufficient funding to continue the ongoing projects of the European Union, mostly in the Muslim communities, which will suffer when EU’s aid program is pulled out.
Pangilinan, a Liberal Party stalwart, acknowledged that “it is the prerogative of any State to refuse to accept help from its friends abroad, the international community.”
But he insists 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.”
According to EU Ambassador Franz Jessen, the government decision to reject aid from the EU would mean the loss of about 250 million Euros (US $278.73 million) worth of grants mostly allocated to Muslim communities, among the country’s poorest.
But Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella clarified that only those EU aid with conditions are being rejected.
“The President has approved the recommendation of the Department of Finance not to accept grants that may allow it to interfere with the internal policies of the Philippines,” Abella said.
Abella also denied reports that the government’s economic team was not informed of Duterte’s decision saying that the recommendation came from the finance department. He also stressed that all government departments were told of Duterte’s decision lest one of them accept a grant with “strings from EU.”
Last year, Duterte slammed the EU and the US for supposedly interfering in his bloody anti-drug campaign.
“If you think it’s high time for you guys to withdraw your assistance, go ahead. We will not beg for it,” Duterte said.
Meanwhile, Benigno Paulo “Bam” Aquino has called on the government to be transparent and clear on its independent foreign policy direction, especially in dealings with other countries in terms of aids and loans, and its position regarding the militarization of Philippine territories.
“The administration’s refusal to receive aid seems 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,” he said.
“Kailangang maging malinaw ang pamahalaan sa taumbayan ukol sa direksiyon nito sa foreign policy. Filipinos deserve to know dahil sila ang direktang maaapektuhan, lalo na sa trabaho, negosyo at presyo ng bilihin,” said Aquino.
“Sa takbo ng mga pangyayari, mukhang Palasyo lang ang nakakaalam ng mga detalye sa direkisyon na nais nilang tahakin. Kailangan nila itong isapubliko para sa kaalaman ng taumbayan,” he said.
Aquino last year filed Senate Resolution No. 158, seeking an inquiry into the government’s stand on different foreign policy issues.
It was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations, then headed by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, but no hearing has been held since then.
Cayetano is not set to become the new secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) after he was confirmed by the Commission on Appointments (CA) on Wednesday.