Lawmakers urge transparency, clarity on verbal foreign policy utterances

May 18, 2017 - 8:17 PM
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Duterte WEF
President Rodrigo Duterte attends the opening plenary of the World Economic Forum on ASEAN at a hotel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia REUTERS/Samrang Pring

Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aguirre Aquino IV on Thursday called on the government to be “transparent and clear” on its independent foreign policy direction, “especially in dealings with other countries in terms of aids and loans, and its position regarding the militarization of Philippine territories.”

President Duterte recently concurred with the recommendation from the Cabinet to refuse specific aid or grants from the European Union on grounds that the EU could use it to “interfere” with the internal affairs of the government.

The country is willing to forego about 250 million Euros ($278.88 million) worth of grants to prevent European Union from meddling in its internal affairs, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said.

See also: ‘IT’S NOT POLICY’ | NEDA chief resists Duterte ‘rejection’ of EU aid”

“Clarity is important for the nation, for the people to be see clearly the direction of foreign policy, because they are the ones who are directly impacted, especially in terms of trade, employment and prices of goods,” said Sen. Aquino.

He issued the pronouncement after the government announced that it will no longer accept development aid from the European Union (EU) that have conditionalities attached. Such a move, he pointed out, will result in the loss of around 250 million Euros or P13.9 billion worth of grants, some of which are allocated to Muslim communities.

“In the scheme of things, it looks like only Malacañang knows the details. It should divulge the details to the people.”

“The administration’s refusal to receive aid seems like a contradictory move to its proposal to raise taxes. If we are refusing aid because we are self-sufficient, why are we then planning to burden our countrymen with more taxes that might raise prices of goods even higher?” he asked.

For his part, Ifugao Representative Teddy Brawner Baguilat raised grave concerns over the apparent move of the Duterte administration to reject certain European aid packages, saying this could lead to a full-blown diplomatic row against one of the largest trade, investment and development partners of the Philippines.

“Such an unprecedented move is short-sighted and obviously not well thought-out, considering that some of the administration’s own key economic managers have said they were not consulted before the decision was made public. It is a haphazard move that the government cannot afford to make,” said Baguilat.

When asked for specific grants and instances where the EU “interfered” with the Philippines’ internal affairs, Cabinet secretaries cited none.

The EU is the largest donor to the Mindanao Trust Fund (MTF), administered by the World Bank that seeks to promote peace in conflict areas through economic development, as part of its commitments to support the peace process in the Philippines.

The AKBAYAN pertylist, meanwhile, said in a statement that the Duterte administration’s rejection of EU support is but the latest tool being deployed “to evade accountability over criticisms of its campaign against drugs which has killed thousands of poor people.”

It is incumbent upon new DFA Secretary Allan Peter Cayetano to convince the world that we intend to uphold the country’s responsibility to the community of nations despite this development, AKBAYAN added.

“Sec. Cayetano should show not just the EU, but the United Nations as well that government is addressing the killings, instead of blaming the opposition or fudging his own interpretation of facts.

“If interference in internal Philippine affairs is the rationale behind rejecting EU aid, then what can be more interference than Chinese encroachment on the West Philippine Sea?”

Akbayan maintained that, while overseas development aid is imperfect, “the solution is to effectively engage, not reject, development partners such as the European Union, or the emotional rejection of support that may have very real consequences for the lives of poor people on the ground.”

Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros described the Duterte administration’s contradictory and confusing statements on rejecting EU aid “alarming … The fact that it is at a loss for a coherent explanation should serve as basis for deep reflection and reconsideration.

“I call on the Duterte government to get its act together and fully explain the reasons behind this unprecedented foreign policy decision.”

Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella explained: “We have an independent foreign policy and we can accept or deny what we find objectionable.”