WATCH | ‘It’s not policy’: NEDA chief resists Duterte ‘rejection’ of EU aid

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(Reuters file)

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 2 – 1:12 p.m.) The Philippines’ decision to stop accepting development assistance from the European Union was a display of the country’s independent foreign policy, a top aide of President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday.

But Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said the decision to cut aid from Europe may still change.

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

And in a press briefing, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte had approved a recommendation from the Finance department “not to accept grants that may allow (others) to interfere with internal policies.”

“We’re supposed to be an independent nation,” Medialdea said in a message to reporters after Duterte resented criticism made by European countries on his war on drugs policy, which has killed thousands of poor slum dwellers.

However, Pernia told reporters: “I will not take that as a policy. It is more of a reaction to criticism. I don’t think it’s going to remain as such.”

“It’s not a policy decision. This is not going to be customary. It’s a one-time act,” he said.

“Well, we have to parse this carefully because you know the President has a style of doing something and then taking it back later. And it’s some kind of a tactic,” he added.

Pernia pointed to reports former Senator Edgardo Angara had been appointed the country’s envoy to the EU, saying: “I think that is way of modifying or softening the impact of that golpe de gulat (surprise blow).”

He said Europe ranks fifth or sixth largest donor of official development assistance.

Asked when he thought Duterte might change his mind on the EU aid, Pernia said: “We’ll see. Maybe after his visit to Russia when he finds out that Russia is not all that … it’s s also difficult country to deal with.”

At the same time, he tried to downplay the impact of the move, saying the foregone funds were not intended for major infrastructure programs and suggesting “we have to see that in a bigger context because we’re getting other grants too.”

“Maybe the assistance from China will more than make up for whatever is foregone from other countries,” he added.

Almost 9,000 people, many small-time users and dealers, have been killed since Duterte took office on June 30. Police say about a third of the victims were shot by officers in self-defense during legitimate operations.

In October last year, the firebrand leader dared Europe and United States to withdraw development assistance if they do not agree with his drug war policy. “We will not beg for it,” he said. “How do you look at us? Mendicants?”

Franz Jessen, EU ambassador to the Philippines, said he was informed this week of the government’s decision to stop receiving aid from Europe, which was funding about 100 community projects across the country.

The EU has been providing support to Manila’s efforts to end nearly 50 years of Muslim rebellion in a conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people, displaced 1 million and stunted growth in one of the country’s resource-rich regions.

Europe granted the Philippines 130 million euros in development assistance between 2007-2013. In 2015, it pledged 325 million euros over four years to finance projects in Muslim Mindanao after Manila signed a peace deal with rebels in March 2014.

Reacting to the development, Senator Francis Pangilinan acknowledged the “prerogative of any state to refuse to accept help from its friends abroad, the international community.”

But, he added, the Duterte administration now “needs to do is to act swiftly and ensure that all existing and ongoing European Union aid programs benefitting our people in the local communities do not suffer when the aid is pulled out” and then “provide these ongoing projects with sufficient government funding.”

At the same time, he said, “the EU’s expression of concern over the war on drugs, including the incarceration of Senator Leila De Lima, should not cause the Philippines to step back in our relationship with EU.”

Click and watch the video report of News5’s Dale de Vera below: