Thursday, January 21, 2021

Foreign aid and the drug war


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THERE has been much talk about foreign aid in the wake of a move in the US Senate to bar entry to the US of Philippine government officials who were involved in the incarceration of Sen. Leila de Lima. This came on the heels of the move by our government to retaliate against the 18 member countries of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that supported the resolution filed by Iceland on behalf of 27 other countries for the UN to review the drug war situation in the Philippines. US Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont and one of the authors of the amendment that proposed a ban on Philippine government officials, in responding to Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo’s charge that the US is infringing on our sovereignty, pointed out that the aid the US gives to the Philippines is not a blank check. Leahy argued that when Philippine officials abuse the justice system for the purpose of political retribution, the US has a duty to respond.

Indeed, bilateral aid has always been an instrument of foreign policy. In fact, the retaliatory move taken by President Duterte to suspend foreign aid negotiations with the 18 members of UNHRC that voted against us is a tacit recognition of that fact. Refusing aid as a form of protest is in itself an expression of foreign policy.

The issue of foreign aid also figured prominently when Duterte allies put a spin on foreign aid statistics to rally support for the President, and to justify his retaliatory moves against countries that are critical of his war on drugs. One interesting set of figures that is going around and being shared by pro-Duterte microbloggers is the June 2019 statistic of the country’s external debt, which is being annotated to show that countries critical of the President’s war on drugs are not on the top of the list, if at all. This then gives the impression that these critics are not helping us and that the move of the President to refuse their help will not be that significant.

This calls for some serious fact-checking.

Indeed, Japan came out as the top lender with $8.1 billion, followed by China with $684 million. And it is true that out of the 18 members of the UNHRC that voted for the Iceland-sponsored resolution, only Spain and the UK loaned us money amounting to $74 million for the former and $14 million for the latter. But it must be pointed out that there are countries that are not members of the UNHRC but also supported the Iceland resolution that provided us loan assistance. These include France that loaned us $441 million and is on the top three after China, Germany ($411 million), Canada ($87 million), Finland ($22 million), the Netherlands ($20 million) and Belgium ($8 million).

It is important to point out that of the 15 top lenders, eight either voted for the Iceland resolution or co-authored it. It should be noted that out of the 14 countries that supported us in the UNHRC vote, and in addition to China, only India landed on the list, lending us $35 million. A quick math would reveal that the eight countries that supported the Iceland resolution loaned us $1.077 billion, compared to the $759 million that China and India loaned us. Thus, this would be enough to debunk this claim of Duterte loyalists that countries critical of his war on drugs are not helping enough.

And we are just talking about loans that we have to pay back with interest. In terms of development assistance in the form of grants, a similar picture emerges, based on the data posted on the National Economic and Development Authority website as of December 2018. Unlike loans where Japan was at the top, the US is the top provider of development grants at $886.47 million.

It should be noted that Australia, Spain and Italy are among the 18 countries that voted against us in the UNHRC and are now being boycotted as fund sources upon the orders of the President in retaliation for their vote. Australia happens to be the second highest grant provider at $476.19 million. Italy provided $5.55 million while Spain provided $8.10 million, most of which are being used in development initiatives in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

In addition, countries that co-authored the Iceland resolution but are not members of the UNHRC also provided grant monies. These are Canada ($55.8 million), France ($1.31 million), Germany ($73 million) and New Zealand ($8.32 million).

The UN system that many Duterte supporters are accusing of not having done anything to help the Philippines, and has been painted as useless, has in fact contributed $349.28 million in grant money, earning for it the third top spot. The European Union, which is on record to have been critical of the President’s war on drugs, is on the fourth spot with grants amounting to $148.74 million.

From among the 14 countries that voted against the Iceland resolution, only China landed a spot in the top 15 grant providers, with $91.62 million.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd has now announced that we will be seeking new sources of foreign aid to compensate for the balance created by the President’s retaliatory move against the 18 countries that voted against us. And it appears that our foreign aid landscape is becoming narrower and dimmer. Already, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has expressed a wish that an exemption be made on the proposed billion-peso loan being negotiated with Australia in line with the modernization of the armed forces. And we can only hope that our spat with the US on de Lima will not lead to another aid boycott, one whose consequences would be too big for us to bear.



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