Philippines says it will reject all aid with conditions

By TERESA CEROJANO Markets Associated Press

The Philippines' top diplomat said Friday the government's new policy of rejecting aid with conditions applies to all donor countries, not just the European Union.

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Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano made the statement a day after officials confirmed that Manila had declined about 250 million euros (nearly $280 million) in EU grants for 2017 to 2020 because the aid "would involve review of our adherence to the rule of law."

President Rodrigo Duterte has lashed out at the EU repeatedly for raising human rights concerns over his deadly crackdown on illegal drugs. He earlier challenged the EU to stop its assistance after the bloc warned that the Philippines risked losing tariff-free exports to Europe due to the thousands of people killed in Duterte's drug crackdown, and government moves to revive the death penalty.

Asked by journalists what other donors are covered by the aid boycott, Cayetano replied, "All countries."

"We are just telling them very respectfully that we believe in our independence," Cayetano said. "We know our problems better than you."

Cayetano, a former senator and staunch Duterte ally who was sworn in as foreign secretary on Thursday, earlier this month defended the government's human rights record in the U.N. Human Rights Council's review of the Philippines.

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Cayetano said the decision to end EU development assistance — one of the biggest amounts for the country, particularly in supporting the peace process with Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines — conveys a strong message to Europe that the Philippines has an independent foreign policy.

"We have good relations with the EU but it's going through a rocky period or a roller-coaster ride," he said. "We are all in this ride together."

He said he will meet with the EU's envoy to Manila to discuss the issue and iron out some "miscommunication" after he returns from Russia, where he will accompany Duterte on a trip next week.

The EU is a leading foreign investor in the Philippines, the only member of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations to enjoy duty-free exports under the EU's incentives for developing countries. The Philippines' duty-free exports to the EU were worth around 1.6 billion euros ($1.78 million) in 2016, according to EU delegation data.