POSTSCRIPT / September 26, 2019 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Be not too proud, and not fall too hard

THERE was no need to announce to the world by presidential memorandum that the Philippines will not accept grants or take loans from the 18 countries that had voted for a United Nations resolution to investigate President Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.

Flailing back that way was childish. Like a street thug so full of himself, we gave the neighbors the finger while telling them we have enough and have no need for their grants and loans.

We further isolated ourselves by that Palace directive, but it seems the Duterte administration does not care. There is always China President Xi Jinping with his promise of massive aid, loans and investments – not to mention his assurance to protect his Davao friend’s hold on power.

It looks like the order was fired from the hip. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, for one, said he might ask for an exception since Australia, which is on the blacklist, is the intended source of a soft loan to buy some naval craft for the armed forces’ “modernization” program.

The Philippines also either has bought or is considering to procure defense hardware from the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, and the Czech Republic, which were among those that supported last July the UNHRC resolution sponsored by Iceland.

(“Modernization” is in quotation marks, because the program – often used to justify the defense budget — can hardly be tagged as modernization. Procured big items are often refurbished hand-me-downs. It might be more honest if the AFP just said “upgrading.”)

As for Duterte’s dependence on China, when the planned purchase of assault rifles from the US was cancelled after some American senators objected on human rights issues, Duterte promptly said never mind America, we would get rifles from China.

That was fine, except that if you ask Filipino soldiers who care for their rifles as much as their wives, nine out of every 10 of them, if not all, are likely to say they prefer Stateside weapons. Their preference will be validated if you ask the officers leading them in battle.

The Office of the President – oozing with billions in intelligence funds on top of its huge propaganda budget – may want to refine its communications program and operations, and improve its explaining of what Malacañang does and intends to do.

It had to be Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. in one of his posts on Twitter to clarify Duterte’s order: “(It’s) not to REJECT but SUSPEND NEGOTIATIONS PENDING EVALUATION. Of course no one in his govt pointed that out. Too much trouble. Just let the President get hit worldwide. Fuck.”

Later on, he elaborated: “That’s because we don’t want to borrow money from those whose defense of the drug trade and attacks on anti-drug trade campaigns make us mighty suspicious about where the money’s coming from. You, trading drugs is the most lucrative business in the world bar none.”

The countries that voted for the UN Human Rights Council resolution to investigate extrajudicial killings and the human rights situation in the Philippines 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. China voted against the resolution, while Japan abstained.

The Malacañang memorandum dated Aug. 27 signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea for the President ordered a suspension of negotiations or signing of all loan and grant agreements with the 18 blacklisted UN members.

Circulated only to Cabinet secretaries and heads of agencies, government-owned or controlled corporations and government financial institutions, it was not clear why it appeared on the website of the Bureau of Corrections. What was BuCor trying to “correct”?

Also on Twitter, former election commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal noted that “if we don’t need the money” from (the 18) countries, it means we don’t need money from everyone.  Not just some. Because, if we still take out loans and ODAs from some but reject from others….”

Locsin replied: “That doesn’t follow; experience showed the same countries that voted for the Iceland resolution never gave or lent us anything worthwhile or offered with conditions more onerous than the loans we’d have to pay back. Yes, we take ODA from Japan which gives without conditions.”

Despite the unflattering remarks made at the UNHRC about the Philippines, Locsin, who was the former Philippine permanent representative to the UN, said of it:

“UNHCR is the most productive and useful UN agency; it spends so much time doing the right things for the right victims—and not the perpetrators—of terrorism that it rarely talks. Those who led it all display the most sterling qualities of leadership. Decency on a massive scale.”

Still, how do we regain the friends or potential allies we may have pushed away by our misplaced braggadocio about our not needing their grants and loans?

Declining grants with conditions, the Philippines rejected in 2017 a 6.1-million-euro trade assistance from the European Union. Three other projects, worth 39 million euros, were also rejected in 2018 after EU and European parliamentarians criticized Duterte’s drug war.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III noted last year that the EU was the only “development partner of the Philippines” that tied human rights and rule of law as conditions for financing agreements. None of our other development partners required similar conditions, he added.

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

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 26, 2019)

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