MANILA, PHILIPPINES —
The Philippines' top diplomat criticized the United States on Friday for deferring a decision on a major aid package over human rights concerns and said the Philippines can survive without it.
Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said the uncertainty over the aid package emerged after President Rodrigo Duterte declared he would chart a foreign policy independent of the United States.
A U.S. government aid agency, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, said this week that its board deferred a vote on a renewal of the development assistance package for the Philippines "subject to a further review of concerns around rule of law and civil liberties."
The Philippines had been slated for another aid package after its previous five-year, $434 million poverty reduction program was completed in May under Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino III. Duterte took office in June.
The agency's spokeswoman, Laura Allen, said Thursday it will continue to monitor events in the Philippines before the next board review in March 2017.
The U.S. decision is among the first signs of how concerns about the rule of law and human rights under Duterte could entail economic costs.
The U.S. government, along with European Union and United Nations officials, has raised concerns about Duterte's crackdown on illegal drugs, which has left more than 2,000 suspected drug users and dealers dead in purported gunbattles with police. More than 3,000 other deaths are being investigated to determine if they were linked to illegal drugs.
Duterte has lashed out at President Barack Obama, his administration and other critics of his crackdown with expletive-laden tirades.
"If we will be given this assistance ... we first have to bow down to the impositions of conditions that they are making and this is something that we feel is not conducive to strengthening our relationship with friends, especially traditional allies, especially close friends," Yasay said at a news conference in Singapore, where he and other officials are accompanying the president on a two-day visit.
"This has always been our appeal to America. Treat us with mutual respect and treat us as a sovereign equal," Yasay said. "You cannot just simply (say) that ... 'we would like to give this to you but you have to toe the line insofar as our policy is concerned.'"
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said at the same news conference that Duterte's government does not condone extrajudicial killings or human rights violations.
Yasay said the proposed U.S. aid for the Philippines is potentially larger than the first package granted to the country but that Filipino economic experts believe the loss of the assistance "will not really have a great impact."
"This is what our economic experts say, we're not really bothered by it, we will not be sleepless over this decision," he said.