US says aid package to Philippines withheld over rights concerns under Duterte rule

The United States will not be renewing a major aid package to the Philippines due to concerns over the rule of law under President Rodrigo Duterte.
The United States will not be renewing a major aid package to the Philippines due to concerns over the rule of law under President Rodrigo Duterte.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - The United States has not renewed a major aid package to the Philippines because of "significant concerns" about the rule of law under President Rodrigo Duterte, the US embassy said on Thursday (Dec 15).

"This decision reflects the Board's significant concerns around rule of law and civil liberties in the Philippines," embassy spokeswoman Molly Koscina said in a statement e-mailed to AFP after the country was not selected for a new Millennium Challenge Corporation grant.

The previous five-year grant, which was worth US$433.9 million, expired in May this year.

The US government set up the Millennium Challenge Corporation to promote economic growth and reduce poverty around the world.  

However countries can only qualify if they “demonstrate a commitment to just and democratic governance, investments in its people, and economic freedom,” according to the corporation’s website.  

The United States has been a vocal critic of Duterte’s war on drugs, which has claimed more than 5,000 lives since he took office nearly six months ago.  The criticism, including from President Barack Obama, has severely strained ties between the longtime allies.  Duterte has in response branded Obama a “son of a whore” and told him to “go to hell”, while seeking to establish closer ties with US rivals China and Russia.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation announced on Wednesday that new grants had been given to Burkina Faso, Sri Lanka and Tunisia.

Koscina said the corporation’s board decided to withhold a vote on whether to reselect the Philippines because of the rights concerns, although it could still be considered in the future.  

“MCC will continue to monitor unfolding events in the Philippines and underscores that all country partners are expected to maintain eligibility, which includes not just a passing scorecard but also a demonstrated commitment to the rule of law, due process and respect for human rights,” she said.  

Philippine police have reported killing 2,086 people in anti-drug operations since Duterte took office on June 30. More than 3,000 others have been killed in unexplained circumstances, according to official figures.  

Often masked assailants break into shanty homes and kill people who have been tagged as drug traffickers or drug users. Rights groups have warned of a breakdown in the rule of law with police and hired assassins operating with complete impunity.  

Duterte has insisted that police are only killing in self-defence and gangsters are murdering the other victims.  But he has also said he will not allow any police to go to jail if they are found guilty of murder in prosecuting his crime war.  

This week Duterte said he had personally killed suspected criminals when he was mayor of a southern city to set an example for police.  

In September Duterte likened himself to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler as he said he was “happy to slaughter” three million drug users. After condemnation from Jewish groups, Duterte apologised for his Hitler reference but said he was “emphatic” about wanting to kill the millions of drug users.