Research group IBON, a member of the multisectoral network AidWatch, said that the Duterte administration is stopping talks on new official development assistance (ODA) from 18 countries as part of its efforts to hide the worsening domestic human rights situation. This includes Spain which is supporting the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The group said that the show of standing up against foreign intervention in the country is hollow because the administration continues to receive much more ‘aid’ from China and the United States (US) despite their much larger and more damaging intervention in the Philippines.
The administration issued a memorandum on August 27, 2019 directing the suspension of all negotiations and signing of loan and grant agreements with the 18 countries of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council that recently supported a resolution to investigate human rights violations in the country. These include: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, Iceland, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Slovakia, Spain, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Uruguay.
AidWatch, a network actively working with different government agencies and stakeholders on ODA issues, noted that as of the first quarter of 2019, the 18 countries combined account for only US$525 million or less than 3% of the Philippines’ active loans and grants. This is because only three of the 18 countries have active ODA here — Australia (US$476 million), Italy (US$41 million) and Spain (US$8.1 million). There is also just an additional US$414 million in the pipeline from Australia (US$82 million), Austria (US$177 million), and the UK (US$155 million).
Active grants and loans mostly go to education, disaster management, agrarian reform and peace-building projects. Spain however also provides almost US$6 million in grants as institutional support for the CHR under the Project Go-Just Human Rights-CHR project. This started in February 2016 and is due to end in December 2019. Aid in the pipeline is meanwhile overwhelmingly for transport infrastructure especially bridges, the group noted.
The president’s memo says that the government is in the process of ‘assessing’ relations with these countries. AidWatch said that this is clearly a signal not just to the 18 countries but to the international community that it will not take any criticism about its human rights record and indeed that the only narrative about the human rights situation it allows will be its own sanitized version. The administration has already said that it will not cooperate with the UN on any such investigation and that it will block the entry of any UN special rapporteurs.
The group said that this is however clearly not a principled stand against foreign intervention but a self-serving stand to cover up massive and rising human rights violations stemming from its violent ‘war on drugs’ and repression of activists and political opposition.
The Duterte administration continues to accept US$365 million in active ODA from China and looking to as much as US$10.6 billion more despite its gross intrusiveness in the West Philippine Sea, said the group. It is also accepting US$887 million in active ODA and US$276 million in military aid over 2016-2020 from the US despite Philippine territory being used as a US military outpost hosting troops, warplanes, war materiel, equipment and bases.
IBON said that notwithstanding the president’s swagger and rhetoric, the country is clearly still under the thrall of big foreign powers and still wanting genuinely independent foreign policy. ###
Photo credit: Ludovic Courtès | Wikimedia Commons