Off the mark
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.