WE have to ask because our newly confirmed Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Cayetano is barely settled in his seat, and here we are already on the brink of cutting off an important link to an entire continent, with which we have close cultural and political ties dating back centuries.
How did Philippine-EU relations deteriorate so badly under the 10-month-old administration of President Rodrigo Duterte that the Philippines has now formally decided to refuse aid from the community? What happened to Filipino and European diplomacy that relations could decline so quickly to this abysmal point? What were the specific EU actions that necessitated this extreme response from our government?
Before answering these questions, we think it prudent to remind everyone that that this is an important and valuable relationship to both sides. The issue should be weighed in the context of the history, the entirety and the continuity of the PH-EU relationship. Care should be exercised by all so that ties are not disrupted or ruptured by impulsive and careless actions. Above all, we should apply sound statecraft and thoughtful dialogue to this misunderstanding.
The problems should be addressed squarely, not glossed over. This Philippine action was precipitated by an escalating series of actions by EU officials to question the Philippines authority to conduct its own affairs. Consider:
First, some two months ago, the EU parliament, the lawmaking body of the 28-country regional bloc, adopted a resolution calling for the immediate release of Sen. Leila de Lima. It did not bother to conduct an investigation of the senator’s detention and the reasons why Philippine justice officials have charged her, or even what the specific charges are.
Second, in the same resolution, the EU parliament demanded an official investigation of alleged extra-judicial killings (EJKs) in the country as a by-product of the government’s war on illegal drugs.
Thirdly, the EU’s trade commission issued a warning that the Philippines could lose its preferential trading status if it passes legislation to reinstate the death penalty or lower the age of criminal liability.
Many Filipinos, particularly President Duterte, are incensed at the idea that what confers on EU the authority to interfere brusquely in Philippine affairs is that we maintain good trade relations with the bloc, and that the country receives significant development aid from the community. EU officials believe our government should do their bidding.
This is unconscionable and unworthy of all the effort that has been expended by statesmen to build up and refine our relationship. It reduces the relationship in one swoop to something pecuniary and meretricious.
The European and Filipino publics should be made aware of the fact that there is an active international lobby today to take down the Duterte government for its alleged human rights violations. That lobby seems to have succeeded up to a point.
What the EU does with its money and largesse is, of course, the community’s business. What the Philippines does inside the country and undertakes in pursuit of its goals is also entirely its business.
This should not be a question of one side giving way to the other. This should be a matter of respect and mutuality. But careless politics and humbug have brought about this unfortunate situation today.