Gov’t thumbs up nose on countries calling for Duterte drug war probe

September 20, 2019

THE Philippine government has shunned any financial assistance from the 18 countries that voted to approve a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution calling for an investigation into summary killings linked to  President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war and the human rights situation in the country.

A confidential memorandum, dated August 27, from the Office of the President ordered a suspension of all negotiations or signing of all loan and grant agreements with the countries which voted in favor of the UNHRC resolution last July 11.

The 47-member UN body—with a vote of 18 affirmative, 14 negative, and 15 abstensions—sought a comprehensive written report on the Philippines’ human rights situation.

The 18 countries that voted in the affirmative were Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, Iceland, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Slovakia, Spain, Ukraine, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Uruguay.

Signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, acting on behalf of Duterte, the memo suspended all new talks and deals for foreign loans and grants from the 18 countries. It was distributed to all Cabinet secretaries and heads of agencies, government owned or controlled corporations and government financial institutions.

The memo, it said, was issued “in light of the administration’s strong rejection of the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council.”

It said the resolution seeking an investigation of Philippine killings was approved by only “a minority of the council members.”

The ban on loans, aid, grants from these countries would stay “pending the assessment of our relations with these countries,” the memo said.

The order was effective immediately and would remain in effect until lifted by the Office of the President.

In 2017, the Philippines rejected a 6.1-million euro trade assistance from the European Union (EU), as the government stood pat on declining foreign grants with conditions from the donor.

Three more projects, worth 39 million euros, were also rejected in 2018 following criticisms from the EU and European parliamentarians against Duterte’s bloody campaign against drugs.

In an interview last year, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the EU was the only “development partner of the Philippines” that tied human rights and rule of law as conditions for financing agreements.

According to Dominguez, “none of our other development partners” required such conditions in financing and grant agreements. “It’s only the EU” and not even European countries were demanding the conditions, he had said.

Dominguez also said last year that the national government, through the Department of Finance, continued to deal with European countries like Austria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and non-European countries like Australia, Canada, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the United States “whose standard financing agreements do not contain such a provision” requiring adherence to human rights and rule of law.

Of the countries listed by Dominguez last year, Austria, Australia and Spain had voted in favor of the UNHRC resolution. This meant the Philippine government would no longer entertain loans or grants from these, if the August 27 memo of the Office of the President is to be followed.

Official development assistance (ODA) through loans and grants for the Philippines’ priority programs and projects mostly come from multilateral lenders like the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and the Washington-based World Bank.

On Duterte’s watch, the Philippines is seeking more bilateral ODA from development partners such as China, Japan and South Korea, mainly to finance big-ticket infrastructure projects under the administration’s ambitious “Build, Build, Build” program.

In a statement this week, the DOF quoted Dominguez as saying the United States is just “all talk” in supporting Build, Build, Build, which requires a budget of more than P3 trillion.

China joined the Philippines in voting against the UN Human Rights Council resolution, while Japan abstained.