EU envoy defends grants after Philippines' aid rejection

The European Union's ambassador to the Philippines said Tuesday that he will seek clarification about Manila's decision to reject new grants from his grouping, while he defended the foreign aid program as promoting development.

Ambassador Franz Jessen told reporters he will meet next week with Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano to discuss the matter.

Philippine officials said last week that President Rodrigo Duterte approved the Department of Finance's recommendation not to accept 250 million euros (nearly $280 million) in EU grants for 2017 to 2020 to discourage the bloc from interfering in Philippine internal affairs and requiring a review of the country's adherence to the rule of law.

The EU is among the critics of Duterte's war on drugs, which has left thousands dead. Duterte has bristled at the criticisms and warned against outsiders meddling in domestic policies.

Jessen said Tuesday that the EU has a standard set of conditions on all its development assistance and they apply to all countries, not just the Philippines. They include ensuring no corruption and that funds go to their intended beneficiaries.

Human rights is tackled under EU political dialogue with the Philippines and is in a sense unrelated to development assistance, he added.

"We are not withdrawing any amount," he said. "We are in contact with the government on how best to work on our development assistance."

In a speech at a human rights forum in Manila, Jessen defended the EU's development aid.

"It's not a question of trying to change the system but trying to work hand-in-hand with governments around the world to make sure that the countries in need develop in the best possible way," he told the forum.

Jessen said experience has shown countries with economic freedom and human rights grow faster. This was seen in the former East Germany and central Europe when economic freedom changed dramatically there, and in China and Vietnam when those countries made progress on economic freedom and human rights, he added.