Philippines, EU say aid, joint projects intact, despite Duterte's ire

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines and the European Union said on Friday they were still working together on development projects, despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s rebukes of the bloc and declarations he would not accept its aid.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, wearing a military uniform, gestures as he delivers a speech during the 67th founding anniversary of the First Scout Ranger regiment in San Miguel town, Bulacan province, north of Manila, Philippines November 24, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

The mercurial leader has repeatedly slammed the EU for what he perceives as criticism of a war on drugs that has killed thousands of Filipinos. He has approved a finance ministry recommendation to stop accepting grants that carried conditions, especially on human rights.

The EU’s funding aid to the Philippines would continue, Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said, despite “misunderstandings”.

Pernia on Friday met Stefano Manservisi, chief of the European Commission’s Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development, to discuss an electrification project for rural areas.

“We have a good relationship. Friends sometimes have misunderstandings,” Pernia told reporters after the closed-door meeting.

Manservisi, in a media briefing, said he also met Senate President Aquilino Pimentel and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez.

“The issue that our aid is rejected was not discussed. The issue of (the EU) being here or not has not been discussed,” Manservisi said.

“We discussed what we can do together, how we can do it.”

He also clarified that EU’s development assistance to the Philippines was not linked to any “unilateral conditionality”.

Asked to comment on Pernia’s remarks, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said what Duterte had rejected were aid packages “with strings attached”.

“I will have to check but there may be a lot of aid packages,” he told reporters.

The EU currently has a Philippines funding commitment of 260 million euros ($319 million) mostly for renewable energy development and rural electrification projects, which “can go on”, he said.

The EU could provide an additional 170 million euros or more in financial assistance in the future, which may include funding being worked out with the Asian Development Bank, he said.

Manservisi said he had not discussed human rights with Philippine officials.

The issue is extremely sensitive to Duterte, who believes foreigners are misled by human rights advocates and interfering in his business.

He has lashed out numerous times at the EU bloc when criticized by members of the European parliament, or by European activists, apparently not distinguishing between the different entities.

Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Martin Petty