I’m all for asserting our independence in all aspects of our national life, and in how we interact with the international community to advance Filipino interests and the common good.
From this perspective, the President’s recent decision to turn down European aid could prove to be a major milestone. Or not.
Secretary Ernesto Abella, Presidential Spokesperson, later clarified that the pronouncement would only affect those aspects of EU assistance that have “conditionalities” considered to be “interference” in Philippine internal affairs. The particular conditionality in question is the requirement to undertake a rule of law audit.
From the vantage point of NEDA Secretary General Ernesto Pernia, the pronouncement was not a policy but a “one-time act.”
These reinforce the suspicion that this could be another example of decision-making by pique.
Much like when one, irked by perceived lack of alignment or compliance, unilaterally withdraws opportunity or support. The juvenile version of it is the quip “ayaw mo? eh di huwag mo!”
A better indication of maturity in foreign relations would have been a comprehensive and well-thought out policy based on thorough analysis and discussion, and one that offers alternatives to that which is being addressed.
The lack of details in the explanation offered by the Presidential Spokesperson, and the differing position of the NEDA Secretary suggest that no such coordinated discourse happened. In the end, it was a Department of Finance recommendation that the President appeared to have acted on.
Normally one would have expected leadership on matters of this nature to also come from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). But under the helm of incoming DFA Secretary Peter Cayetano, who seems to have misinterpreted his role as mainly that of justifying the President at each and every turn, this seems unlikely.
It needs to be asked, why would an administration that promised to restore trust and confidence in government shy away from a rule of law audit?
The President himself declared widespread corruption among the police who are responsible for enforcing the government’s campaign against drugs.
After the murder by anti-drug enforcers of a South Korean businessman in the guise of a drug operation, President Duterte thundered “you policemen are the most corrupt. You are corrupt to the core. It’s in your system.”
But after the initial suspension of anti-drug units, nothing by serious way of preventing a recurrence of the problem happened.
Perhaps if the Philippine government agrees to a rule of law audit, we would stand a better chance of dealing with police who engage in illegal activities, which the President estimated to be 40% of the entire force.
Government’s averse reaction to external meddling in internal affairs could actually be a platform for a national conversation about what would constitute “meddling in internal affairs.”
Would an ODA-funded project that assists government in the preparation of legislation on taxation that would give tax breaks to big investors be considered meddling? Would an infrastructure project that would benefit businesses identified with the donor country be an interference?
Or is criticism against the anti-illegal drugs drive the only criterion?
Assuming that soon enough sufficient details would be revealed to the public about the scope of the decision, the next question should be, what are government’s measures to ensure the gaps in assistance, particularly financing, would be filled?
Unless of course government truly does not consider the initiatives that are currently being funded by official development assistance as important to Filipinos, and that therefore they can just be discontinued.
Which brings me to the matter of effects of the decision on assistance to peacebuilding, which stands to be affected by shifts in European ODA.
If government is of the opinion that it can do without foreign money and still continue to pursue activities that create the conditions to stop armed conflicts and prevent their recurrence, then by all means.
But peacebuilding activities should continue, be they in the form of local activities that help families and communities to rebuild after being subjected time and again to displacement, or in the exploration of new political, economic and socio-cultural arrangements to address the roots of violent conflicts.
Perhaps those that have reduced vital peacebuilding work to mere “seminars and workshops” have forgotten that it is necessary to invest in agency strengthening, and empowerment in cyclical conflict–enabling people to get together to overcome marginalization, work in concert, and choose to solve problems effectively and non-violently.
These are the very same elements that underpin at one level, voters’ decision to elect a local politician to a national position in one swoop, and an independent foreign policy, at another. Why would they be considered superfluous when it comes to peacebuilding, but a matter of course under the change has come banner?
The world stage is littered with many examples of heads of State who threatened to reconfigure foreign relations when it suited their agenda.
Unfortunately the ones that stand out are the likes of Marcos and other dictators who equated foreign policy with the perpetuation of their rule and interests. In a manner of speaking, what they said was “ayaw niyong sumunod sa gusto ko? eh di huwag ninyo kaming pakikialaman!”
As for the European Union, if it is true to its avowed partnership objectives in the Philippines there are other ways it can continue to work relevantly in the country. And it certainly can do better than also say “ayaw niyo? eh di huwag niyo!” MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mags Z. Maglana is a Mindanawon who has worked in various capacities over the past 30 years for peace, good governance, sustainable development, and the promotion of human rights. Maglana is one of the convenors of Konsyensya Dabaw. This piece was first posted on her FB wall. Please email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org)