Palace: No order to expel EU envoys

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MALACAÑANG on Friday walked back President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat to kick out European Union (EU) envoys in the country and cut the country’s diplomatic ties with the 29-member bloc amid criticisms of his bloody war on drugs.

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Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella clarified during Friday’s news conference that the President’s outburst was actually directed at international parliamentarians and civil society leaders from Progressive Alliance and the Party of European Socialists.

The group had called on the Duterte administration to stop extrajudicial killings after visiting communities affected by the bloody anti-drug war.

The President hurled expletives at the EU on Thursday afternoon over what he claimed was a threat from the bloc to expel the country from of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

It wasn’t the EU, however, that called for the Philippines’ expulsion from the UN rights council but non-government organizations Human Rights Watch and the Philippine Universal Periodic Review Watch.

These groups warned that the Philippines could lose its membership in the UN council if it maintained its “constant denial” of the extrajudicial killings amid the drug war and continued to oppose a UN probe on the killings.

Wrong group

The Palace spokesman conceded that Duterte barked up the wrong tree.

Abella told reporters on Friday: “We are not [expelling them]. These [tirades]are not in reference to the ambassadors, okay. There’s no need…there’s no directive to do that (expulsion of EU envoys). There is no actual reporting…there’s no actual follow-up on that matter…at this stage.”

In a speech during the inauguration of the renovated press briefing area in the Palace grounds, the President told the EU: “You [tell us that the Philippines]will be excluded from the UN [council]? Sons of b*****s, go ahead. How do I even say this in Spanish? Hijo de p**a, you go ahead [and expel us]!”

“You (EU countries) are interfering in our affairs because we are poor. You give us money, then you start to orchestrate what things should be done and which should not happen in my country. Bullshit. We are past the colonization stage. Don’t f**k with us. Do not come to this country again. You want to expel us? You try. Would Russia and China agree to that? Ulol pala kayo e (You’re crazy),” Duterte added.

Abella could not categorically say if President Duterte would apologize for his curse-filled speech.

“I’m sure these things are being clarified directly to persons concerned. I suppose venues will be exhausted regarding that matter,” Abella added.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, who was present in the news conference, tried to downplay the President’s speech.

“If the President wasn’t making a reference to EU [but with the other groups], then what he has previously said could already be irrelevant. In such a situation, the EU will understand, as seen with their clarification [that the statements from certain EU parliamentarians]are not from the EU [as a bloc],” Lopez said.

“But of course, just like any, any country, when something is being said about them, they’re a bit concerned. Sometimes, they say we’re surprised with the statements of the President; [that]we are concerned. But, they’re….they’re trying to analyze it also,” Lopez added.

PH assures EU of openness

Lopez admitted that his recent trip to Europe was aimed at assuring the 28-member bloc that the Philippines was open to dialogue.

He also argued that the country remained qualified under the General System of Preference-plus (GSP plus) program that grants full removal of EU customs tariffs on over 66 percent of product tariff lines.

“There are those being said that we could lose the GSP-plus, and we went there to make sure. There’s an ongoing evaluation, October to December. That’s why we went to Brussels [in Belgium]last September and also in Germany for an investment trip,” Lopez said.

“We were telling them that incidents of those teenagers killed [during the police’s anti-drug operations]are unfortunate, but we assured them that the President will not tolerate such abuse. That’s why around a thousand policemen were replaced and there is an ongoing investigation,” Lopez added.

Lopez was referring to the deaths of Kian de los Santos, Carl Angelo Arnaiz and Reynaldo de Guzman in August, among the hundreds of deaths recorded in police operations.

“Moreover, we cited that our country is one of the signatories of the UN Convention on Human Rights, and we adhere to the principle of protecting human rights, as shown by our government’s pro-poor programs such as universal healthcare, conditional cash transfer for the poor, free college education, assisting micro and small enterprises, among others, as well as the President’s willingness to have human right groups to monitor our situation. They were happy with what we told them and appreciate our gesture,” Lopez added.

‘Just an outburst’

Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd said the European Union mission in the Philippines must not take seriously the “order” of Duterte for EU ambassadors to leave the country in 24 hours.

“It’s just an outburst,” Pimentel 3rd said.

“If taken in context, EU ambassadors should know that that is not the order to leave. Such a thing would have to come from the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs). And I am sure no such order is forthcoming,” he said.

The European Delegation in the Philippines clarified that the recent visit of the delegation of the “International Delegates of the Progressive Alliance” to the Philippines on October 8 to Oct. 9 was “not a European Union mission.”

The European Union was not part of the organization or planning of that visit – neither the Delegation of the European Union in the Philippines nor the European Union institutions in Brussels, the delegation added.

with BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO

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