By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
Some 45 million euros ($55 million) aid by the EU that should have materialized this year have been rejected by the Duterte administration, but EU said it will continue to engage the Philippines even citing year 2017, the first full year since Duterte came into office, as the best ever in both countries’ relations.
EU Ambassador to the Philippines Franz Jessen said at the “Kapihan sa Maynila” that the Philippines-EU relations have never been better in contrast to the impression of a rocky relationship under the Duterte administration.
“2017 was the best year in PH-EU relations,” said Jessen noting of the top-level visits of EU officials to the Philippines as a result of the country’s hosting of the ASEAN’s 50th celebration.
Jessen also revealed that the EU sent its official invitation yesterday, Jan. 23, to President Duterte to personally attend the Asia-Europe Meeting in Brussels in October this year. Jessen said that Duterte’s participation in ASEM could be an “eye opener” for him to learn and understand the way EU does things on its so-called shared values.
On the EU grants that had been rejected by the Philippine government, Jessen said these involved three projects. In November last year, the Duterte administration said it would no longer accept grants or aid that are tied to EU conditions, such as human rights. The move came after some EU Parliamentarians openly criticized the government’s human rights record following its bloody war on illegal drugs. The Philippines has accused EU of interfering in the country’s domestic affairs and imposing conditions on their aid to the country.
Jessen was earlier quoted of saying that cutting aid from the 28-member bloc would mean the loss of about €250 million or $278.73 million worth of grants.
One project that was rejected by end of last year was the 6.1 million-euro grant under the Trade-Related Technical Assistance (TRTA), a trade capacity-building program for the Philippines. The funding is now “gone, disappeared,” said Jessen.
The second project that should have materialized this year involves 3 grant contracts for sustainable energy for Mindanao worth 11.5 million euros.
The third project involves new call for proposals on sustainable energy projects (10 million euros and 18 million euros) that EU has to decide this week for possible postponement because these are covered by a financing agreement that runs for 4 years but which cannot be extended for two more years and for which the Philippine government has to agree on. The 18 million project is in partnership with the World Bank.
These projects are being implemented by EU partners with some schools and non-government organizations (NGOs). That’s a total of 45 million euros, including the 6.1 million euro TRTA project last year, he said. These funds will go back to Brussels and will be reallocated to countries in need of EU aid.
“We respect the decision and make sure that there is no misunderstanding. We don’t want to do things that government does not want,” he said.
Nonetheless, one positive aspect in the two countries’ relations was the recent results of the EU assessment on the Philippines GSP+ monitoring covering 2016-2017 period which showed a more than 30 percent increase in the country’s exports to EU largely due to the country’s status under its GSP+ program, which grants zero duty on the country’s exports covering over 6,000 tariff lines.
While EU cited progress in the Philippines compliance to the 27 international conventions, where its unilateral GSP+ program was also based on, it also expressed grave concern on the country’s human rights violations on alleged extra-judicial killings arising from the implementation of the government’s war on illegal drugs.
This issue will be subject of further discussion and engagement by the EU starting this spring, stated the Philippine assessment report.
Another positive development moving forward was the signing of the Philippines-EU Partnership Cooperation Agreement, a framework for both countries to move into the proposed discussions towards bilateral free trade agreement.
Political analyst Richard Heydarian also noted that bilateral economic relations with the EU has never been as good, but political relations have suffered unexpected regression in recent years.