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Palace: No directive to expel EU ambassadors

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella is seen in this 2016 file photo. President Rodrigo Duterte's remarks asking European Union ambassadors to leave in 24 hours was an expression of outrage over the perceived interference of some in the country's internal affairs, according to Abella. PPD/File

‘Things are being clarified’ after Duterte mistakenly aims ire at EU

MANILA, Philippines (First published on October 13) — There is no directive to kick out diplomats of the European Union from the Philippines, Malacañang said a day after President Rodrigo Duterte told the bloc’s envoys to leave the country in 24 hours for supposedly meddling in Manila’s domestic affairs.

“There’s no need --- there’s no directive to do that,” Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a press conference on Friday when asked if EU ambassadors in the country should leave now.

On Thursday, Duterte delivered a caustic tirade against the EU for supposedly lobbying for the Philippines’ removal from the United Nations. His verbal assaults included a threat to cut diplomatic ties with EU member-states.

READ: Duterte warns EU ambassadors: 'You leave my country in 24 hours'

To note, the EU has not issued a statement seeking the expulsion of the Philippines from the UN.

The Palace later scrambled to clarify Duterte's warning to EU ambassadors, saying that the presidential rants were directed at a statement of the seven-member delegation of the International Delegates of the Progressive Alliance, which included European parliamentarians.

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The European Union Delegation to the Philippines, for its part, clarified that statements made by the Progressive Alliance during its visit to the Philippines were made “solely on behalf of the Progressive Alliance and do not represent the position of the European Union."

READ: Palace rushes to explain as Duterte mistakenly aims ire at EU

The EU also referred to supposedly misleading coverage of the press conference that gave the impression that the delegation was an EU mission. Philippine and international media reports in a list posted on the PA's website, however, did not refer to the delegation as being from the EU.

READ: International delegation did not claim to represent EU

Meanwhile, after Duterte mistakenly aims ire at EU, Abella said the matter is now being clarified “directly to persons concerned.”

He also maintained that Duterte was not misinformed, adding that the president was “reacting to what he was reading.”

“So it’s not a question of being misinformed. That means to say he was being fed the wrong information,” the Palace spokesman said.

“So basically, it’s a lesson for us also to --- for the need for critical reporting and reading of the news,” he added.

“So, the President reacted as any leader would when national sovereignty is violated. So, we call upon the --- also for the media to heed his request too for correct reportage.”

Duterte, who easily won the race to Malacañang last year on a brutal law-and-order platform, has stoked international alarm for activating his deadly anti-drug campaign.

Over the weekend, Human Rights Watch warned the Philippines that it is risking its membership of the UN Human Rights Council, not of the world organization itself, if it continues with its "murderous" drug war.

John Fisher, the HRW's advocacy director in Geneva, said Philippine membership in the council entailed the responsibility of upholding the highest standards of human rights and allowing itself to be subjected to the UN's processes.

EU ‘not lecturing type’

Contrary to Duterte’s claim that EU had been dictating on the Philippines’ internal affairs, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, who also took part in Friday’s Palace briefing, said the bloc is actually “not really into lecturing and into meddling.”

“They were actually saying, ‘Tell us how we can help.’ Ganun ang sinasabi nila as we were describing the anti-illegal drug campaign, for example, and all these issues,” Lopez said as he recalled his meetings with various trade institutions and parliament ministers in Brussels in September.

“If you talk to the real EU Parliamentarians, the officials, they are more careful eh. They don’t want to appear interfering eh. I guess, they’re learning also,” he added.

“They know that we are a small country sensitive in our sovereignty, and we wanna protect that, and that’s why they’re very careful. Their approach nga is more collaborative.”

In his presentation before EU officials last month, Lopez and and special envoy to the EU Edgardo Angara urged the bloc to further engage the Philippines through the expansion of the General System of Preferences Plus (GSP+)—a preferential trade deal that allows 6,200 of its products to enter the EU duty free.

The Philippines was granted beneficiary country status under the EU-GSP+ in December 2014, but the alleged cases of extrajudicial killings in the country as part of Duterte’s drug war has put at risk the country’s trade privileges.

Manila's beneficiary status under the GSP+ necessitates the implementation of the 27 international treaties and conventions on human rights, labor rights, environment and governance.

Results of the latest GSP+ review is expected to come out in January next year.

READ: 'No surprises' for Philippines, EU says, as results of trade perks review loom

In the same speech on Thursday, Duterte said the Philippines could let go any trade perks that EU has granted, adding that Southeast Asian countries and China could forge a free-trade agreement.

EU overtook the United States and Japan as being the largest destination of exports from the Philippines in March, according to the Philippines Statistics Authority. With $901 million of total exports, this makes the EU the biggest and fastest growing export market for Philippine goods.

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