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EDITORIAL - Rejecting aid

Sovereign states have a right to refuse foreign assistance, so President Duterte can reject an aid package tied to human rights issues from the European Union. Both sides clarified yesterday that other EU aid programs would continue.

The criteria for accepting or rejecting official development assistance, however, should be in consonance with values cherished in a democratic republic and enshrined in the Constitution. This is also a developing country where poverty incidence was estimated at 21.6 percent as of 2015, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. It’s a country that remains heavily dependent on ODA from outside sources.

If the government is going to be picky about foreign aid, it should be for the right reasons. It’s not accurate to say that conditionalities attached to ODA constitute interference in internal affairs, which is sufficient reason to turn down the aid. Foreign aid is sourced from people’s money and cannot be free of conditionalities; donor governments are accountable to their citizens for the judicious use of their taxes. Multilateral lenders are answerable to their member economies and therefore must conduct due diligence and impose certain conditions to ensure that the funds are used for their intended purposes. Any donor that fails to do these things is sure to face trouble.

In the case of Chinese concessional loans that must be repaid, which the Philippine government prefers to grants from the EU, there is at least one condition: Chinese companies should get the contracts for the aid-funded projects.

If we want to have a truly independent foreign policy, we should not go for aid without conditionalities, but stop relying on foreign aid altogether. Given the Philippines’ level of development, however, the country is still a long way from such independence. And even if the country can afford to stop relying on ODA, it will continue to draw on foreign funding for many projects. Even China, which has become a significant contributor to multilateral lenders, still borrows from foreign sources for its development needs.

The government must revisit its understanding of interference in relation to the country’s place in the community of nations. There are international treaties that the country has committed to uphold and which certain foreign governments want to promote in their aid programs. A nation that honors its international commitments views such aid conditionalities not as interference but merely common goals.

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