Off the mark

The Philippine Star - - OPINION -

No sov­er­eign na­tion wants for­eign in­ter­fer­ence, and gov­ern­ments can be ex­pected to protest crit­i­cism by for­eign cap­i­tals on mat­ters re­lated to do­mes­tic af­fairs.

Ob­vi­ously, how­ever, the protest bears more weight when it is based on re­li­able in­for­ma­tion and has a pre­cise aim. The lat­est tirade by Pres­i­dent Duterte was once again di­rected at one of his bêtes noires, the Euro­pean Union. In a speech last Thurs­day, he lam­basted the EU for al­legedly seek­ing the ex­pul­sion of the Philip­pines from the United Na­tions for the bru­tal con­duct of the war against il­le­gal drugs. For good mea­sure, the Pres­i­dent told EU am­bas­sadors that they could leave the Philip­pines “within 24 hours” and stop in­ter­fer­ing in the coun­try’s af­fairs.

The out­rage might have been jus­ti­fied – ex­cept that the call for ex­pul­sion was made not by the EU or the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment but by seven mem­bers of the so-called Pro­gres­sive Al­liance from Europe and the United States. As the EU Del­e­ga­tion in Manila stressed, the visit on Oct. 8-9 was nei­ther planned nor or­ga­nized by the EU, whether in the Philip­pines or at the EU head­quar­ters in Brus­sels, Bel­gium. The seven del­e­gates, who touched base in Manila with staunch crit­ics of the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion to call for an end to ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings, also did not call for the coun­try’s ex­pul­sion from the United Na­tions but from the UN Hu­man Rights Coun­cil.

Un­til yes­ter­day, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials were still en­gaged in dam­age con­trol, stress­ing that the Pres­i­dent was in fact re­fer­ring to the Pro­gres­sive Al­liance. Dur­ing the visit, the EU Del­e­ga­tion had cor­rected me­dia re­ports, clar­i­fy­ing that it was not a Euro­pean Union mis­sion. The clar­i­fi­ca­tion was re­peated the other night, shortly af­ter the Pres­i­dent let out a mouth­ful and told the EU en­voys to leave the coun­try.

Both the EU and the busi­ness com­mu­nity down­played the in­ci­dent, with EU Am­bas­sador Franz Jessen stress­ing the con­tin­u­ing co­op­er­a­tion in­clud­ing in trade be­tween the Philip­pines and the union of 28 mem­ber states. The EU states host a large num­ber of over­seas Filipino work­ers, with nearly half a mil­lion em­ployed in Italy and the United King­dom alone. The Philip­pines also en­joys pref­er­en­tial sta­tus and tar­iff-free en­try of a wide range of goods into the EU. Equally im­por­tant, demo­cratic Philip­pines shares many val­ues with the free so­ci­eties of West­ern Europe.

There are valid is­sues in­volv­ing the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity that de­serve pub­lic out­rage by the pres­i­dent of the Philip­pines, such as the oc­cu­pa­tion of Mis­chief Reef and other ar­eas over which the coun­try has been awarded sov­er­eign rights in the South China Sea. But the Pres­i­dent prefers to down­play this is­sue and pur­sue bet­ter ties with the oc­cu­pant. There is no rea­son why good re­la­tions with other coun­tries should be jeop­ar­dized by pres­i­den­tial anger that is off the mark.

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