WASHINGTON has deferred the Philippines‘ inclusion from the roster of countries eligible for development aid under the United States’ “Millennium Challenge” fund, amid criticism of the Duterte government’s human rights record.
The Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC), a US aid agency under Secretary of State John Kerry, announced in a press release on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) that its board of directors had “deferred a vote on the reselection of the Philippines for compact development, subject to a further review of concerns around rule of law and civil liberties.”
US Embassy spokeswoman Molly Koscina echoed this in an email to reporters, saying “The decision reflects the Board’s significant concerns around rule of law and civil liberties in the Philippines.”
The Philippines received $434 million in MCC funding or “compact” over a five-year period from 2010 to 2016.
The money went to tax collection reforms of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, 4,000 community development programs under the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services or KALAHI-CIDSS, and 137 miles of roads and 61 bridges on Samar Island.
MCC Chief Executive Officer Dana Hyde and board member Mark Green visited the Philippines in May after the elections, to mark the end of the five-year grant. The two had dinner with then president Benigno Aquino 3rd and Cabinet officials.
A report of the trip to the MCC board said a second aid package for the Philippines was “on track.” A Fiscal Year 2017 scorecard, used to determine eligibility for funding, showed that the Philippines met standards in government effectiveness, freedom of information and control of corruption, but got lower marks in rule of law, political rights and civil liberties.
‘Demonstrated commitment’ needed
Koscina said MCC funding for the Philippines could still be considered in the future.
“MCC will continue to monitor unfolding events in the Philippines and underscores that all country partners are expected to maintain eligibility, which includes not just a passing scorecard but also a demonstrated commitment to the rule of law, due process and respect for human rights,” she said.
The United States has been a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. Police have reported killing 2,086 people in anti-drug operations since Duterte took office on June 30. More than 3,000 others have been killed in unexplained circumstances, according to official figures.
The criticism, including from President Barack Obama, has severely strained ties between the longtime allies. Duterte has in response hurled expletives at Obama and told him to “go to hell,” while seeking to establish closer ties with US rivals China and Russia.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said the “deferment allows us the opportunity to continue to dialogue with the MCC. The development of the Second Compact continues until the next board meeting in March 2017.”
“The Philippine Government remains committed to the goals to foster good governance and the rule of law in the country, and will continue to engage the MCC Board to ensure that accurate and updated information on government policies and programs are provided to its members,” he said.
For political analyst Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, the MCC’s move was not surprising.
“It is expected from the US since MCC, from its inception, has a political agenda,” he said. “In transition to the Trump administration, it is hedging its bet.”
But he downplayed the impact of the withdrawal of the grant on the Duterte administration’s development plans. “MCC aid does not have enough clout to change policy,” Casiple said.
At its quarterly meeting on December 13, the MCC selected Burkina Faso, Sri Lanka and Tunisia for new five-year compacts. The board also reselected Cote d’Ivoire, Mongolia, Nepal and Senegal to continue developing compacts.
It also selected Kosovo and Timor-Leste to develop MCC threshold programs or small grants, and reselected Togo to continue developing its threshold program.
Apart from the Philippines, the MCC board also deferred a vote on the reselection of Lesotho until governance concerns have been addressed.