MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte did not really mean to boot out European diplomats in the way that his hot-tempered cuss-heavy talk at the refurbished Malacañang press briefing room Thursday seemed to imply, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella explained.
President Duterte had said angrily: “You are interfering in our affairs. Sons of b****es. Go ahead. Do it!” referring to separate pronouncements from nongovernment global groups that there could be basis for expelling the Philippines from membership in the UN Human Rights Council, and that his insistence on a flawed drug war policy could have trade and economic impacts.
Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella, when asked by a journalist, if he were a European ambassador, should he leave now, replied curtly: “There’s no directive to do that,” alluding to the President’s curse-laden tirade about kicking out ambassadors of the European Union.
Abella said President Duterte was only reacting to news that he misconstrued to indicate the Philippines may be removed from the United Nations on account of perceived flaws in the way he was carrying out his deadly ant-illegal drugs campaign that has already killed multiple thousands of persons.
The Palace, in effect, was saying that it was all just a knee jerk reaction by the President due to a communication gap, and that he did not really mean to kick out the European diplomats.
The Geneva-based Human Rights Watch’s advocacy director, John Fisher, said in media interviews last weekend that among the possible consequences if the Philippine government continues to ignore the dire assessment of its human-rights record by UNHRC member states is expulsion from the council.
On the other hand, it was a delegation from the Progressive Alliance (PA) and the Party of European Socialists (PES), which visited the country recently to call out the Duterte Administration on drug-related killings, that pointed out there could be “consequences” for the Philippines’ inclusion in the special trading instrument of the EU, known as GSP+ (Generalized Scheme of Preferences)” if the Philippines falls sort of its obligation to uphold human rights standards. Inclusion in the GSP+ has granted the Philippines preferential status – either zero or minimal tariff – for some 6,000 products, but among the terms for such privilege is adherence to universal values like human rights.
The EU office in the country, meanwhile, said the statements made by the Progressive Alliance during its visit to the Philippines “were made solely on behalf of the Progressive Alliance and do not represent the position of the European Union.”
The EU office in Brussels indicated they have “not received any formal communication asking them to pull their offices out of Manila,” underscoring that “normal operations continue”.
Former Malaysia prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, meanwhile, said he understands Duterte’s behavior, citing his own past encounters with EU: “I have always been very critical of Europe and the Western world. I like to say things that are nasty. I even boycotted Britain for a time. But the investments still came in. Why? Because the investors/business people – they want to invest money, they don’t care about your politics. Provided you give a country that’s stable and the rule of law applies, they will come.”