Philippine foreign minister defends move to monitor foreign funding for NGOs

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the aim of the new order was to stamp out funding for terrorism.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the aim of the new order was to stamp out funding for terrorism.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (REUTERS) - The Philippines' top diplomat on Wednesday (Feb 24) defended a new order requiring all international aid for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to be cleared with the foreign ministry, saying the aim was to stamp out funding for terrorism.

"It doesn't affect legit NGOs," Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said on Twitter. "It is how a responsible government monitors where money comes from and goes to in the face of insurgent and terrorist-secessionist threats."

For decades, successive Philippine governments fought low-level communist and separatist rebellions, but the rise of Islamic State-inspired local extremism and the intensity of attacks has caused alarm.

But NGOs said the requirement, which was conveyed to diplomatic missions on Feb 5, might lead to a reduction in funding and threaten their survival. The Philippines has a vibrant NGO sector, with 60,000 registered aid groups, according to the World Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, promoting the interests of farmers, women and indigenous people, among many others.

Ms Susan Ople, who heads an NGO fighting human trafficking, said the policy needs to be clarified. "We'd like to know how to navigate these changing waters," she told Reuters. "If Secretary Locsin said there is nothing to fear, let us be transparent and with each other."

She hoped the policy would not interrupt assistance to longstanding NGOs, as the coronavirus pandemic had already made it harder to secure funding.

Dr Milwida Guevara, who heads the Synergeia Foundation, which works to improve quality of basic education, said a system by which the government regulates foreign funding was already in place.

"Why can't they make the system work instead of making it very hard for NGOs who are doing many of the functions this government should be doing?" said Dr Guevara, a former finance ministry undersecretary.