Philippines Gets Low Points on US Yardstick on Corruption, Rule of Law

Felipe Villamor
171103-PH-grant-620.jpg Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he addresses troops during a change of command and tribute to retiring Philippine Armed Forces Chief Gen. Eduardo Año, at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon city, Oct. 26, 2017.

The Philippines expressed dismay Friday over low national scores in a U.S. yardstick for rule of law and combating corruption that could disqualify the country from hundreds of millions of dollars in development aid from Washington.

In its country scorecard released on Thursday, the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC) gave the Philippines a failing grade in two categories, but gave it good marks for other areas such as fiscal and trade policies, government effectiveness and freedom of information.

Philippine presidential spokesman Harry Roque noted that one of the highlights of the new report “is our failure to hurdle the control of corruption,” even as he stressed that methodologies used in coming up with the scores were old.

“The findings, therefore, may not completely reflect the reform initiatives of the Duterte administration in the area of fighting corruption and good governance,” Roque said.

The scorecard’s release came almost a year after Washington deferred voting on renewing an aid package to the Philippines under MCC, which was valued at $434 million (22.2 billion pesos) the last time.

Neither government indicated the size of the fresh grant that could be halted over concerns about rule of law amid President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on crime that has left thousands of suspected drug addicts and users dead since he assumed office last year.

The MCC, set up by the United States government to reduce poverty around the world, has been monitoring Philippine eligibility for the program.

According to the agency, countries seeking assistance should show a “commitment to just and democratic governance.” It uses the scorecard as a tool to measure compliance.

“The MCC scorecard not only helps countries identify where improvement is needed but also leverage resources to drive change in support of long-term growth and poverty reduction,” the agency said on its website.

Committed to further reforms: Presidential spokesman

Roque said reform initiatives implemented by the Duterte administration include firing government officials, including those close to him “due to reports of corruption” and making all government deals transparent by passing freedom of information legislation.

The president also streamlined the delivery of basic services, as well as went after big-time tax delinquents, including the country’s flag carrier, Philippine Airlines, Roque said.

“We are hopeful that the MCC board will take into account these initiatives and see our commitment to further reforms in the area covered by the compact assistance,” he said.

In December 2016, the United States announced that it would defer assistance to Manila, but did not preclude it from receiving future grants.

That decision occurred after concerns were raised about civil liberties in the Philippines, following almost nightly police raids on alleged drug havens that have left many civilians dead.

The U.S. has criticized Duterte’s bloody war on illegal narcotics, which has left more than 12,000 alleged drug dealers and users dead, according to the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates.

Police claim the actual figure is 3,800 – a number higher than the estimated 3,200 political activists and students who vanished and were presumed slain during the two-decade regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, which ended in 1986.

In the past, Duterte blasted Washington for what he said was apparent interference in his country’s domestic affairs, and threatened to expel U.S. forces from the Philippines. He also cursed ex-President Barrack Obama and vowed to promote alliances with traditional U.S. adversaries China and Russia.

His tone has improved after President Donald Trump entered office in January. The two leaders are expected to meet later this month, when Manila hosts Southeast Asian leaders for a summit.

The U.S. also provided crucial intelligence help and military support as the Philippine military defeated Islamic State-linked militants in southern Marawi city.


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