Philippines snubs EU aid over criticisms of Duterte's anti-drug war

MANILA - The Philippines said on Thursday (May 18) it will no longer accept development aid from the European Union due to the bloc's criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial war on the narcotics trade.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea told reporters the government decided to turn down 250 million euros (S$388 million) worth of aid to prevent the EU from using it to “interfere in the internal affairs” of the Philippines.

Most of that aid has been earmarked for projects meant to bolster talks to end nearly 50 years of Muslim rebellion in the war-torn southern Philippine island of Mindanao. 

The conflict has killed 120,000, displaced 1 million, and stunted growth in one of the Philippines’ resource-rich regions.

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Mr Medialdea said the decision to turn down EU aid is in line with “this administration’s independent foreign policy”. The Philippines does not want “certain sectors within the EU community to continuously interfere or question our government” on issues concerning human rights and Mr Duterte’s drugs war, he said.

Mr Duterte, 72, became president last year after promising to launch a bloody crackdown on crime.   

Since he took office in June, police have reported killing about 2,700 suspected drug users and traffickers. More than 1,800 others have died in drug-related incidents, while over 5,700 other violent deaths are under investigation.  

The EU has expressed concerns over these killings.  

Mr Duterte has responded by calling then-UN chief Ban Ki Moon a "fool", and literally giving the EU the finger in one of his rambling news briefings.

In March, the EU summoned the Philippine envoy in Brussels to explain an expletive-laden tirade by Mr Duterte threatening to hang EU officials opposing his bloody drug war.

"I will just be happy to hang you. If I have the preference, I'll hang all of you," Mr Duterte said at the time. "You are putting us down. You are exerting pressure in every country with the death penalty."

He also chastised the EU for suggesting "a health-based solution" to the Philippines’ drug problem, calling the proposal a “government-sponsored idiotic exercise”.

He claimed what the EU wanted was for the government to build clinics where methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin could be dispensed to addicts.

The EU denied his allegations, saying in a statement it has not "suggested, discussed, proposed or considered the use of any substitution drugs when treating addiction to methamphetamine ... or any other drug addiction in the Philippines".

Mr Duterte has denied condoning extrajudicial killings but has repeatedly threatened drug suspects with death. He has said he is ready to "rot in jail" to protect Filipinos from atrocious crimes linked to drugs.