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PHL loses US Millennium grant over rights concerns

A United States aid agency has deferred the selection of the Philippines to receive a multi-million dollar development grant, citing concerns on “rule of law and civil liberties.”

The Millennium Challenge Corporation last year announced that it had unanimously re-selected the Philippines  to receive a second grant in recognition of the country’s continuing efforts to improve its policies on good governance under then-President Benigno S. Aquino III.

The formal re-selection of the Philippines by the MCC was supposed to succeed the first grant or compact of $434 million that expired at the end of May 2016.

In a statement, however, the MCC Board said it had “deferred” a vote on the reselection of the Philippines for compact development, “subject to a further review of concerns around rule of law and civil liberties.”

Opportunity for dialog, says DFA

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the MCC’s decision is not yet final, saying “the development of the Second Compact continues until the next board meeting in March 2017.”

“The deferment allows us the opportunity to continue to dialogue with the MCC,” it said in a statement on Thursday as it assured the Washington-based agency that the Philippine government “remains committed to the goals to foster good governance and the rule of law in the country.”

It also said that it will continue to engage the MCC Board “to ensure that accurate and updated information on government policies and programs are provided to its members.”

“The MCC Board had a wide discussion on its engagement with the Philippines, including the very positive performance in the First MCC Compact and the FY 2017 Scorecard, as well as on the current developments in the country,” the DFA said.

The MCC is an independent American aid agency created by the US Congress in 2004.

‘Not rejected, only deferred

US Embassy spokesperson Molly Koscina explained the MCC did not actually reject the Philippines as recipient of its grant.

“The Board did not vote on whether to reselect Philippines as eligible to continue developing a second compact at the December meeting. Rather, it decided to revisit the discussion on the Philippines’ eligibility at a future date,” Koscina said via e-mail.

But Koscina noted that the MCC’s decision reflects the Board’s significant concerns around rule of law and civil liberties in the Philippines.

“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,” Koscina said.

Past projects under Millennium aid

It supports developing countries address human rights, poverty and corruption through good governance.

Approved in 2010, the first grant provided the Philippines with $262 million for the Secondary National Roads Development Project to improve access to markets and services for farmers, fishermen and small businessmen.

It also gave $120 million for poverty reduction programs and $54.3 million for the computerization and streamlining of business processes of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and reduce corruption under the Revenue Administration Reform Project. 

At its quarterly meeting on December 13, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Board of Directors selected Burkina Faso, Sri Lanka and Tunisia for new MCC five-year compact grants to spur economic growth and reduce poverty.

For a country to be selected as eligible for assistance, the MCC said “it must demonstrate a commitment to just and democratic governance, investments in its people, and economic freedom, as measured by third-party policy indicators on MCC’s annual scorecard.”

MCC selected in 2015

The Philippines’ re-selection in 2015 came after the release of the MCC scorecard where the country passed 12 out of 20 indicators such as Trade Policy, Land Rights Access, Rule of Law and the “must-pass” indicators of Control of Corruption and Democratic Rights, both of which are considered “hard hurdles.”

The United States, a close ally of the Philippines, has long expressed concern on the wave of killings of drug suspects since President Rodrigo Duterte came into power on June 30 this year.

The US said it supports the country’s anti-illegal drugs campaign, but maintained that due process and human rights must be observed by Philippine authorities in carrying out its operations.

However, a defiant Duterte told the US and other critics, such as the United Nations and the European Union, to back off and not to meddle with his domestic policies as he vowed to step up his violent war on illegal drugs “until the last drug lord is killed.” — NB/RSJ, GMA News