Duterte vows to kill EU ‘rights activists’

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PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte threatened to behead human rights advocates who criticized the country’s record Friday and refused to investigate thousands of deaths attributed to his war on illegal drugs, one day after rejecting 250 million euros in aid because the European Union was “interfering” in domestic concerns.

“There are people dying everyday—let’s say a hundred a day. Who is killing them? I don’t know, and I don’t want to find out,” the President said in Filipino at the inauguration of a bridge in Tagum City.

Reiterating his vow to finish the drug war within three years, Duterte also threatened to behead human rights advocates who were criticizing his drug campaign.

“Do not believe these human rights activists. I’ll kill you along with drug addicts, I’ll decapitate you. You cannot taunt me with that. Try to place me behind bars,” he said.

Duterte said human rights activists had alleged that 7,000 people had died in his drug war since he came to power in the middle of last year, but warned of many more deaths in his quest to eradicate drugs in society.

“Make that 50,000. I will really finish them off. And even if I go to hell, I can rot in prison. I do not mind. I am old,” he said.

“If I should be placed behind bars, then fine. I’ll pay the price. But do not f— with the Filipino family,” he added.

He said drug suspects would then get away with their crimes because their lawyers would insist they were not in the right state of mind when they committed them.

While the government has repeatedly denied having any role in the killings of drug suspects and blamed syndicates for the rise in deaths, the administration announced that it will reject any form of assistance from the EU, a staunch critic of the administration’s drug war that threatened to abrogate 27 trade agreements and stop the duty-free importation of Philippine products in Europe “if the killings won’t stop.”

The country’s decision to reject aid from the EU would mean the loss of about 250 million Euros ($278.73 million) worth of grants mostly allocated to Muslim communities, EU Ambassador to the Philippines Franz Jessen said.

With the EU hinting at the possibility of “threatening to stop the aid,” Philippine officials preempted the move by refusing to receive it, a government source said.

The Philippines was placed under intense scrutiny during the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council, which urged it to allow the investigation of the thousands of extrajudicial killings blamed on his war on drugs.

Borrowing a line from the hit film “Heneral Luna,” Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez on Friday defended Duterte’s decision to refuse aid from the EU.

“Freedom or business? It’s very clear now that freedom is our priority,” Lopez said in Filipino on the ANC news channel.

Lopez admitted that the Philippines’ refusal of assistance from the EU that was tied to the observance of human rights.

“We follow human rights. We follow the rule of law. Nobody has to tell us that. I think that’s the point,” he said.

“We have dignity. We are not beggars. They can help if they want to.”

“We might not develop as fast, we might not be rich fast enough but at least we have our principles and we have dignity.”

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez

Newly appointed Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the country’s relations with the EU were going through a rough period.

“It’s like a roller coaster ride, but we are in this ride together,” Cayetano said.

“Let me emphasize that as Filipinos, maybe all of us agree that we cannot accept any aid with conditions,” he said.

He gave as an example that during the Universal Periodic Review, The Netherlands suggested that eventually the bloc might insist that abortion be made legal in countries accepting EU aid.

He said other members of the EU were for legalizing the possession of drugs for personal use, which runs counter to the country’s war on drugs.

“What will you do with this big money if our people will turn into drug addicts?” Cayetano said.

During the UPR meeting in Brussels last week, 257 countries recommended the Philippines end the extrajudicial killings in the government’s “war on drugs” and scrap the plan to reimpose death penalty,

Even China has submitted its own separate recommendations for the Philippines.

Cayetano said the decision to not accept any aid with conditions was a general policy, but some Cabinet members were discussing “specific” policies.

“So we are just announcing the policy so you know we will boycott your aid if you put conditions on it and interfere. We are drawing the red line,” Cayetano said.

Immediately after he came back from Russia, where Duterte will have his official first visit, he will set a meeting with EU ambassador Jessen to “try to navigate this roller coaster ride together.”

He said that if the EU will help the Philippines with its present problem and can agree on a framework, the country will accept the bloc’s aid.

Opposition lawmakers on Friday raised concerns over the decision, however.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman derided President Duterte for adopting a skewed double standard in accepting foreign aid or assistance.

“While he rejects assistance from the European Union because of alleged conditions related to his bloody campaign against drugs, he accepts Chinese pledges of aid and investments despite the overriding condition that the Philippines must not enforce against China the UN-supported arbitral decision of the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal adjudicating that the resource-rich and vast areas in the West Philippine Sea are part of Philippine territory and Exclusive Economic Zones, including Benham Rise, Spratlys and Panatag Shoal, among others,” Lagman said.

Lagman said that “while EU grants are historically delivered and implemented mostly in strife-torn Mindanao, the Chinese assistance is still “merely contingent.”

Lagman lamented the fact that the President rejected EU aid without a collective consultation with his economic team.

“Accepting EU’s grants is not mendicancy because the grants are being offered without the Philippines begging for them,” Lagman said, noting that Jessen previously clarified that EU’s serious concern on the on-going extrajudicial killings is not a conditionality of the grant which EU had committed to release just the same amounting to 250 million euros, or P13.89 billion up to 2020. 

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat appealed to the government to rethink its decision considering the bigger implications on trade, investments and development.

Baguilat warned that the President’s rejection may lead to a full-blown diplomatic war against one of the largest trade, investment and development partners of the Philippines.

“Such an unprecedented move is short-sighted and obviously not well thought out considering that some of the administration’s own key economic managers have said they were not consulted before the decision was made. It is a haphazard move that the government cannot afford to make,” said Baguilat.

Opposition senators also expressed alarm.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the move might hurt trade relations between the Philippines and EU member countries.

“I hope that the government has studied this thoroughly and carefully and is prepared to deal with the consequences of its decision,” Drilon said.

Drilon said that “the EU has been a Philippine’s committed partner in the pursuit of peace and development in Mindanao.”

Drilon said the EU has provided around 80 percent of the total funds to the Mindanao Trust Fund, a facility set up by various donors to fund socioeconomic recovery of conflict-affected communities of Mindanao.

On the economic side, Drilon said the Philippines and EU’s partnership has resulted in billions of pesos in trade, helping to boost the economy and generate job opportunities.

“We must not forget that aside from developmental aid, we are beneficiaries of the Generalized System of Preferences Plus [GSP+] that allows the Philippines to export 6,274 products to the EU at zero tariff, including the famous tuna of General Santos City,” he said.

This makes EU as one of the biggest trading partners of the Philippines, according to Drilon, with the total trade between the EU and the Philippines reaching 12.9 billion euros or roughly P704 billion in 2015.

Of these, 1.38 billion euros represented products under the GSP+ scheme, he said.

Business groups said they were hoping Duterte would reconsider is decision.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry agreed that the decision came in as a surprise, not only for the economic team but for many sectors.

“They know where these financial funds are used. As to private sector, we hope that on going trade consultation and advocacy would not be effected,” said chamber president George Barcelon.

A member of the Management Association of the Philippines aid the current position of the President is likely to change in the next few weeks once the Philippine economic team explains the repercussion of the President’s folly.

He added that the government should always strive to have more relationships and refrain from ending or dividing what it has gained in the past.

“We should always make friends, instead of enemies. Dutertenomics’ Build, Build, Build program needs a lot of support. EU should be given the chance to help,” he said.

But Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said he would not recommend a reversal of the aid policy, saying it would not hurt the “growth trajectory” of the economy.

Socio-economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, who questioned the decision on Thursday said on Friday he had not spoke to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez on the matter yet.

“I think this is more of a reaction to criticism. I would not take it as policy,” Pernia said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta, Julito Rada and Othel V. Campos 

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