EU-Philippines economic cooperation — what about rights violations? | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 02.03.2018
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EU-Philippines economic cooperation — what about rights violations?

The EU and the Philippines have signed a multimillion dollar economic cooperation deal. But should the EU be assisting a country whose government is allegedly involved in massive rights abuses? Ana P. Santos reports.

An economic cooperation agreement between the European Union (EU) and the Philippines came into force on Thursday.

The landmark Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) covers €260 million ($320.4 million) in aid aimed at "closing pockets of poverty" by investing in renewable energy to provide electricity to remote Philippine provinces and fund developmental projects in the southern island of Mindanao. Additional funding may be secured through multi-donor agreements with the Asian Development Bank.

"We are looking at job creation, schools, social services and support to the peace process [in the Philippines]. We [also] want to support displaced people so that they can return to normal life," Stefano Manservisi, the director general for international cooperation at the European Commission, told a press conference in Manila on Friday.

Stefano Manservisi, director general for international cooperation at the EU Commission

'We remain concerned about the [alleged extrajudicial] killings, but there will be proper mechanisms in place for these concerns to be addressed,' said Manservisi

The EU is the largest contributor to a multi-donor development aid program targeting Mindanao, an underdeveloped region plagued by terrorism.

"There are no unilateral conditions linked to our development assistance [to the Philippines]," said Manservisi.

But will deteriorating human rights situation in the Southeast Asian country have a negative impact on foreign aid?

"We remain concerned about the [alleged extrajudicial] killings, but there will be proper mechanisms in place for these concerns to be addressed," Manservisi added.

Strained relations

The EU is a major source of foreign investment in the Philippines. It is also the second-biggest market for the country's exports. Last year, more than $901 million (€732 million) worth of products were exported from the Philippines to EU member countries.

But the long-standing EU-Philippines relations were put to test when Rodrigo Duterte became the country's president in June 2016 and subsequently launched a massive and brutal crackdown on illegal drugs. Images of bullet-ridden corpses of alleged drug users and petty criminals started showing up on media, sparking international outrage and condemnation.

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Duterte slammed the international criticism as "foreign meddling" and took on a more aggressive stance. He said his government would turn down foreign aid and grants from any organization that set conditions to undermine the country's "independence."

Read more: No drug-related extrajudicial killings in the Philippines?

In January last year, the EU ambassador to Manila, Franz Jessen, confirmed that the Philippines had rejected €6.1 million worth of aid from the European Union.

Human rights and development aid

Duterte's firebrand politics and penchant for profanity took the world by surprise. Moreover, Manila's ties with Western nations have massively deteriorated under Duterte's presidency.

"This president is difficult to put in a box. However, from a policy and development lens, he's no different from all previous administrations. The reforms he has introduced are even more technocratic," Edmund Tayao, a political analyst, told DW.

"Despite his acerbic comments, Duterte is still popular in the country. The criticism of traditional partners like the EU will only impact the country's foreign policy and relations, but not economic aid," said Tayao.

PHILIPPINES-ASEAN 2017-SUMMIT (Getty Images/AFP/T. Aljibe)

Duterte's firebrand politics and penchant for profanity took the world by surprise

Read more: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatens to eject EU ambassadors

Still, the pressure is mounting on Duterte to recalibrate his human rights policies, particularly in relation to his war on drugs.

Last month, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it would begin "preliminary examinations" to assess if a case should be filed against Duterte.

This was followed by the Worldwide Threat Assessment report by the US Intelligence Community that dubbed Duterte one of the "regional threats to US national security in Southeast Asia."

Read more: Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte rejects crimes against humanity probe into 'drug war'

The government in Manila rejected the report, calling it "myopic and speculative at best."

"It was not difficult to predict that the president would be defensive about such reports," Tony La Viña, an international law expert, told DW.

"There have already been consequences for the development assistance. There could be more," La Viña added.

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