December 19, 2017 / 7:54 AM / a year ago

Philippines withdraws bid for U.S. grant, says unrelated to rights

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines said on Tuesday it has withdrawn an application for a second grant from a U.S. aid agency after getting $434 million in 2010 aimed at reducing poverty, but that the move had nothing to do with Western criticism of its human rights record.

Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte Rodrigo Duterte gestures during a news conference on the sidelines of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Pasay, metro Manila, Philippines, November 14, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao

Projects financed by the aid agency, the Millennium Challenge Corp (MCC), require counterpart funding from the Philippines, but presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the government wanted to channel resources instead into rebuilding Marawi, a southern city devastated in fighting between the military and Islamist insurgents this year.

“It was deemed that for the time being, we will withdraw our application for the second cycle and we will focus instead on the rebuilding of Marawi,” Roque said.

The issue of aid has been contentious in the Philippines, with President Rodrigo Duterte objecting to donors attaching conditions, and especially to any expressions of concern about human rights.

Nearly 4,000 people have been killed by police since June last year. Police reject allegations they are executing drug users and dealers and say killings were all in self-defence.

Several thousand other people have been killed in mysterious circumstances, with the police usually attributing those deaths to gang violence.

In August, the MCC upheld the eligibility of the Philippines to secure a fresh grant, after initially deferring a vote amid concern about Duterte’s war on drugs.

The Southeast Asian country’ graft-fighting efforts are also in the spotlight after it fell short of the “control of corruption” target on the MCC’s scorecard.

But Roque was quick to point out that the decision to withdraw the application for another MCC grant had nothing to do with such issues.

He said the government would “probably” apply for another MCC grant in future.

This year, his government rejected about 250 million euros ($295 million) in European Union grants.

Officials of the MCC were not available for comment.

The U.S. embassy in Manila, without mentioning the Philippines’ withdrawal of its grant application, said the MCC was pleased with its achievements in the Philippines.

“Both the MCC and the United States are proud of our longstanding, positive relationship” with the Philippines, said embassy press attache Molly Koscina.

Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Nick Macfie

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