President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration has ordered the suspension of all loan and grant talks with foreign governments that backed a United Nations resolution to review human rights abuses during his signature anti-drug war.
The Iceland-sponsored UN Human Rights Council resolution passed by a minority vote in July, drawing the ire of Duterte, who bristles at Western condemnation of his campaign which has killed thousands and drawn international condemnation but is widely supported by Filipinos.
Duterte’s chief aide Salvador Medialdea, in a memorandum which he signed “by order of the president,” instructed all government agencies to cut off all official development aid talks with the 18 countries that voted for the resolution.
The order, noting the “administration’s strong rejection of the resolution,” was issued Aug. 27 but only revealed in local media reports late Friday.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement Friday night “The President has not issued any memorandum suspending loans and negotiations involving 18 countries that voted in favor of the Iceland resolution.”
A copy posted to the Bureau of Customs website was taken down Saturday.
Human Rights Watch Asia deputy chief Phil Robertson told AFP that any such move would “only result in renewed determination by the Council to get to the bottom of these abuses.”
Reports said, following the signing of the Aug. 27 order, “in light of the Administration’s strong rejection of the Resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council which was carried through by the votes of a minority of the Council members on 11 July 2019 and calls upon the Philippines to take certain actions in relation to alleged human rights violations in the country.”
At least 18 countries, spearheaded by Iceland, approved a resolution allowing United Nations Human Rights Council to compile a comprehensive report on Duterte’s bloody drug war that has reportedly killed more than 6,000 suspected drug pushers and users since Duterte assumed the presidency in 2016.
The growing number of deaths prompted the UN to issue a statement of concern in June about what they called a “staggering” number of deaths during Duterte’s signature campaign.
“The country is digging itself into a deeper hole by this retaliation,” Senator Francis Pangilinan, president of the opposition Liberal Party, told AFP.
The amount of aid that would be held up by the order was not known.
But Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said in a tweet that going by past records, the funds from the countries were “not worth the candle considering the amounts and the terms and the money goes mostly to consultants.”
Locsin said Friday the Philippines could manage without the loans from states that voted in favor of an Iceland-led resolution, which sought a review of the human rights situation in the country.
“We don’t need the money; we’ve more than enough without turning to anyone outside except Japan of course whose generosity is unconditional, quick; and whose motivation is honestly to help the Philippines. The rest are tongue in cheek and negligible,” Locsin said on his official Twitter account.
Asked how much in loans and grants would be affected by the memo, Locsin on Saturday morning said there’s “nothing big” based on the information he received.
“If it is a memo it is in effect. The amounts I hear from time, nothing big. Mostly DOF’s (Department of Finance) remit. Not new; long been turning down European grants with onerous or meddling conditions,” he noted.
In addition, he reminded that foreign grants to local non-government organizations now require clearance from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA).
“I have banned European grants to NGOs unless cleared by DFA and NICA,” he said.
The 18 members that backed the resolution are Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Britain, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, Iceland, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Slovakia, Spain, Ukraine, and Uruguay.
Some signatories are members of the European Union, one of the Philippines’ largest sources of official development assistance.
The EU ambassador to Manila declined to comment.
Australia is also a key source of security assistance.
Panelo had told reporters shortly after the July vote that Duterte was seriously considering breaking diplomatic ties with Iceland, which had introduced the resolution.
Duterte launched the anti-drug crackdown in 2016, and since then police say they have killed over 5,500 drug suspects.
However, human rights groups say the true toll is four times that number.
The UN review comes in addition to a preliminary examination already launched by war crimes prosecutors from the International Criminal Court, which the Philippines left earlier this year.