Philippine ties with EU set for 'rollercoaster ride': minister

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines’ relations with the European Union, a top source of investment, could be a “rocky, rollercoaster ride” after the country’s president declined a big aid package over conditions tied to human rights, the foreign minister said on Friday.

Philippines' newly appointed Foreign Minister Alan Peter Cayetano delivers a statement in Manila. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Citing a need to preserve its independence and halt outside interference, the Philippines on Thursday said it would forego new grants of about 250 million euros ($278.43 million) in the next three years, destined for conflict-hit southern areas.

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told reporters the government would have accepted the aid had the EU not imposed conditions related to President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. Duterte’s signature campaign has killed thousands of Filipinos, and alarmed much of the international community.

“We have good relations with the EU, but it’s going to be a rocky period, or a rollercoaster ride,” Cayetano said, adding that he would meet the EU ambassador next week when he returns from an overseas trip.

“We will try to navigate this rollercoaster ride together.”

Cayetano said the Philippines could still accept the aid if the EU removed its conditions and started supporting Duterte.

Duterte has deployed bellicose, absolutist rhetoric in defiance of the West. His rejection of the EU aid is the first concrete step toward his promised shunning of aid and investments from countries worried about his crackdown.

The EU and European lawmakers have been vocal in their concerns and have urged the Philippines to investigate allegations of widespread summary executions and police cover-ups, which the authorities deny.

Duterte has hurled expletives at the bloc and previously said the Philippines “will not beg” donors.

“The ball actually is now in the hands of the EU,” Cayetano added. “We always hear from them about the rule of law every time they see people dead on the streets. Do they want to see dead police officers instead?”

Philippine Trade Minister Ramon Lopez said the EU should not consider imposing conditions on investments and trade as this could hurt both sides. The Philippines enjoys tariff-free exports to the EU under its Generalised Scheme of Preferences.

“Zero tariff for 6,247 exports means cheaper products for their consumers,” Lopez told news channel ANC.

“It is a mutually beneficial agreement at the end of the day. We believe they should be insulated.”

The EU has supported hundreds of Philippine community projects since 1992, providing more than 2.3 billion euros for programs ranging from health to human rights.

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty