Government News Analysis

Aid with a chunk of lemon

Washington has just sent another shot across the bows of the Duterte administration. This one threatens to “defer” a package of aid – though how much that is actually worth is not clear. The reason, according to a spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Manila, is “significant concerns around the rule of law and civil liberties in the Philippines”.

In other words, Washington wants Filipinos to know that US assistance can be withheld if President Rodrigo Duterte persists with his war on illegal drugs and continues to ignore the firm advice from its former masters in the US Government to get back in line. It’s another lame attempt, in other words, to sow dissent within the Philippine nation and employ the old 5Ds strategy – disrupt, divide, decree, direct and dominate.

This is the situation. The package, a five-year grant under the auspices of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) – we’ll come to that later – was due to be evaluated on Thursday. It would have been the second such package for the Philippines; the first, arranged in 2011 and worth US$434 million, had run its course. The new one would straddle 2017 to 2021 – the whole of the term remaining to Duterte’s presidency. Concerns from members of the MCC board, however, took it off the front burner and moved it to the back of the stove. Now, it’s scheduled to be review again in March next year.

That all sounds a bit like a parole hearing; and in effect it is. For what the MCC needs convincing of before it can free the Philippines to benefit from its grant, is that it is of good behaviour and worthy of the aid according to MCC criteria.

As the embassy spokeswoman elaborated: “We will continue to monitor unfolding events in the Philippines, and [this] underscores that all country partners are expected to maintain eligibility, which includes not just a passing scorecard but also a demonstrated commitment to the rule of law, due process and respect for human rights“. OK, here’s the shorthand for that: the MCC has given the Philippines three months probation. In that time it will be expected to get its-you-know-what together; specifically it needs to hand out kid gloves to its law officers.

But while this story is creating a stir around the world as Liberal media and liberty groups force-feed it to their eager audiences, it’s not really concerning anyone in Manila. Ernesto Pernia, Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority, and the man charged with implementing the administration’s socio-economic agenda, noted that the new package is considerably smaller than the previous one and would have little impact on the economy. Consequently, as he said, he would “not lose sleep” over it – and nor should anyone else. This latest storm in a teacup, at worst is a symbolic slap on the wrist.

However, let’s take a closer look at what this is really all about, but first, let’s set the scene.

There’s no doubt that the Philippines is a thorn in the side of US President Barack Obama’s administration; and Duterte’s trading-in of the US-Phils “special relationship” for a new Sino-Phils one is still smarting. For Obama this continues to be a personal embarrassment – after all, it was on his watch that one of his country’s oldest and most reliable allies jumped ship. Worse, actually, he virtually provided the trampoline by treating the Philippine Republic like some US vassal state, instructing it on the required direction for aspects of its domestic policy.

And as we know, Hell hath no fury like a Progressive-Leftie scorned – look no further than the bellyaching going on right now in the US over the election of Donald Trump; Obama’s replacement. And this is very much the case in Washington’s present handling of Manila. It’s been beaten at its own game and it’s bitter.

As a result, the Philippines has had an arms deal for 26,000 rifles, destined for the Philippine National Police, blocked by the US State Department courtesy of a veto by Obama pal and far-left Democrat senator, Benjamin Cardin. For much of the past seven months, Duterte and his admin have been pillories by Obama’s attacks dogs in the American media and his tame NGO’s – many headed by former State Department and Democratic Party staffers. Pro-Obama liberty groups have continually raised the currency of anti-Duterte activists in the Philippines by backing their protests and widely publicising their gripes.

Last week, Foreign Policy (FP) magazine honoured arch-Duterte foe, Senator Leila De Lima with an award for “Standing up to a tyrant”, What’s wrong with the gong. Again, FP is run by an Obama adorer and an Undersecretary in the former Democrat administration of Bill Clinton. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

So what exactly is the Millennium Challenge Corporation? It’s a US Government-sponsored aid-granting agency, several removed for appearances sake from its big cousin, the Unites States Agency for International Development (USAID). It’s been variously accused of “re-imposing American imperialism on the Global South [PC for the Third World; i.e., developing economies]” and for legitimising “more spending on ‘development’ programmes which are primarily intended to serve the interests of US consumers, manufacturers and investors”.

What’s important here though is that in return for financial assistance, the MCC, like USAID, requires – in a word – ‘compliance’. Thus, this is not state-sponsored philanthropy; that’s just the make-up it wears. The mascara. That’s the image it likes to project; and it does do some good. But the overriding purpose of both these agencies is to further American interests – including ideological ones – abroad.

And in the case of the Philippines right now, that means that to become MCC compliant, and get the cash, it must fall in line with Washington’s wishes – specifically, it must prosecute its war on illegal drugs very differently to how it has been doing. Consequently, the death toll must dwindle to virtually nothing, and in the case of anyone who is killed – unless, of course it’s a member of Philippine law enforcement – it must be proved that all steps were taken to avoid that death.

The present system of incarceration – the gross overcrowding in jails – would need to be looked at also. The sum total of prisoner space, if the original build specs were adhered to, would house less than 25,000 inmates. That’s all the jail accommodation the government has had to play with. However, in New Bilibid Prison alone, the country’s largest penal institution, opened in 1941 to house 8,700 felons, there are already 23,000 inmates.

So it’s hard to see how any headway can be made on that situation between now and March, but then maybe that’s why it’s called the Millennium Challenge. Removal of Duterte’s “State of Lawlessness” measures would certainly garner extra Brownie points when the grant is re-reviewed in four months time.

But anyway, that’s the sort of “improvement” the MCC Board will be looking for. We feel, however, they may be disappointed. This government doesn’t have the time, the money, or frankly the interest to appease the MCC. It’s better placed to understand the problems the country faces and how to deal with them, and so more carrots and sticks from Washington will have no effect. And spiking the aid with a chunk of lemon will certainly not help.

To continue. The MCC’s Chief Executive is Dana J. Hyde. She got that job from … guess who? Correct. President Obama. And why not? A former White House insider and State Department staffer, she’s Obama-loyal. With a kitty of around US$4 billion, the job of this career bureaucrat is to advance America’s interests around the globe.

And that’s what she’s doing right now with the Philippines. After all, this money could be directed to agriculture – a key target for MCC aid, and in the Philippines a sector that’s crying out for assistance. As far as we can see, helping poor farmers won’t raise the death toll from the war on drugs. Nobody’s getting shot for drinking coconut moonshine as far as we know.

But Mz Hyde’s people aren’t interested in that, which is why this is really all about trying to get Duterte to do as he’s told. To call his lawmen back to barracks. Ironically, according to Mz Hyde, her organisation is endeavouring “to fight poverty and transform people’s lives”. She must have read Duterte’s campaign speeches; that’s precisely what he pledged to do.

Between the raw rantings of the ensembled Left and the funding machinations of the MCC, this simply amounts to a Washington-inspired pressure play. For want of a better phrase right now we’ll call this Heckel and Hyde.

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