Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano appeared to have backpedalled on his position that the country would reject all kinds of aid and grants from the 28-member European Union (EU).
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Cayetano said the Philippines would still welcome foreign aid, including those from the EU.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s earlier verbally rejected new grants from the European Union, including those meant to help in the rehabilitation of Marawi City.
Cayetano explained that it is now the country’s policy to decline foreign aid that comes with conditions.
He, however, clarified that the decisions will be made based on individual aid packages, as the government will still accept aid from any country or organization so long as the package does not come with strings attached.
“I already stated the policy, if there are no conditionalities and it will not affect our sovereignty, then everyone is free to help. If it will [have conditionalities], then we will not accept it but it will not hurt Marawi or the community because they are free to give it to international organizations or to the community directly,” Cayetano said during a chance interview.
“So the question should now be addressed to the EU. Are they willing to give without conditionalities or if the conditionalities are there, are they willing to do it through international organizations?” he added.
Cayetano earlier said the Philippines would no longer accept aid from the European bloc so it would stop meddling in Manila’s internal affairs.
He noted that while the Philippines was being “treated as a sovereign nation,” the EU would supposedly use the aid package as an “excuse” to criticize Manila, particularly the conduct of Duterte’s deadly drug war.
The President has repeatedly criticized the European Union in his speeches, saying its members do not understand the magnitude of Manila’s drug problem.
He also accused the bloc of undue interference in the Philippines’ internal affairs.
EU lawmakers who visited the Philippines in July criticized Duterte’s anti-narcotics war, citing the more than 3,000 deaths in anti-drug operations and alleged human rights violations in the country.
Amid what the government believes is the EU’s interference in Manila’s affairs, EU Ambassador to the Philippines Franz Jessen said refusing aid from the 28-member bloc would mean the loss of about €250 million or $278.73 million worth of grants.
Duterte also earlier accused Europe of allegedly calling for the Philippines’ expulsion from the United Nations and told European diplomats here to leave in 24 hours.
This came after the seven-member delegation of the International Delegates of the Progressive Alliance visited the Philippines.
During the Wednesday meeting with the European Union officials, Cayetano said the bloc also clarified the delegation was not an EU mission as reported in the media.
“We had a very frank and honest discussion with the representatives of EU, led by Ambassador Jessen. We affirmed to him that the ties are there, are strong, the things that bind the Philippines and Europe, those [go]a long way just like the US. Having said that, we take issue with certain statements in the environment that is trying to be put up by some European-led NGOs [non-government organizations], parliamentarians,” he added.
“So the EU Ambassador clarified to us, that’s not an official stand of the EU, that’s not the EU themselves. But… the other day [there were reports [that came out], so we’re telling them we have to take the full picture into consideration,” Cayetano said.
Meanwhile, he reiterated that Manila’s trade relationship with the European Union would not be affected by the Philippines’ move to turn down assistance from the bloc.
“So having said that, the way forward is simple, there’s no problem in our trade [relations]… But in aid, we told them…, If you’re going to give us conditionalities that will affect our sovereignty to give you the right to interfere in our domestic affairs, we will not accept that donation,” Cayetano said.
“We agreed on two things, one to keep talking, number two, to look for way forward. So hopefully [if talks go well]between the EU and President Duterte then it’ll be a giant step forward but there are real issues that have to be resolved,” he added.
Senators have expressed no objection to the President rejecting conditional aid from the EU but said the country needs all the help it could get for the rehabilitation of Marawil City.
Senators Gregorio Honasan and Francis Escudero both agreed that the decision not to accept EU help is a prerogative of the President because he has the sole discretion regarding foreign policy.
According to Honasan, while the country really needs all the help it could get, it should not be at the expense of national pride and patrimony.
He is also against the supposed meddling of the EU in the country’s domestic affairs.
“We are not meddling in their affairs… Tinatakot at sinusuhulan pa tayo. Ang tawag dito [we are being threatened and bribed. That is what you call]mutual reciprocal relationship and respect,” Honasan said in a text message.
Escudero said any aid would be welcomed as long there are no “strings attached.”
He added that the President has the sole prerogative to accept or reject foreign help and he is convinced that Duterte has basis in rejecting it.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan of the minority bloc also raised no objection to the rejection of conditional aid, saying also that it is the prerogative of the President being the chief architect of the country’s foreign policy.
He, however, said that the government must make sure that the rehabilitation of Marawi City would proceed smoothly even without the assistance from the EU.
The budget department initially allotted P5 billion for the rehabilitation of the war-torn city this year and would be allotting P10 billion for 2018.