MANILA — The United States said Thursday it had deferred giving economic aid to the Philippines because of concerns about the rule of law as the campaign against drugs under President Rodrigo Duterte appears to show no signs of slowing down.
The US Embassy in the Philippines said that the deferral did not preclude the country from receiving grants in the future.
“The decision reflected significant concerns around the rule of law and civil liberties in the Philippines,” said Molly Koscina, a spokeswoman for the embassy.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation, set up by the US government to reduce poverty around the world, said in a statement Wednesday that it had deferred a vote on renewing the funding. Neither government indicated the size of the grant, but officials said the figure was lower than the previous aid package, worth about $434 million.
The United States has been openly critical of the Philippines’ crackdown on narcotics, in which more than 2,000 people have been killed at the hands of the police since Duterte assumed office in June. An additional 3,500 killings remain unsolved, but about a third of those have been identified as drug-related.
In response to the criticism, Duterte has cursed President Obama and promised to scale back military cooperation with the United States, a longtime ally, while seeking to build closer ties with China and Russia.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation would continue to monitor unfolding events to determine the eligibility of the Philippines, Koscina said. The agency’s board will next meet in March.
For a country to receive funding, it “must demonstrate a commitment to just and democratic governance, investments in its people, and economic freedom,” according to the agency’s website.
The initial grant, approved in 2010, helped modernize the internal revenue bureau, expanded programs under the social welfare department intended to alleviate poverty and rehabilitated a major road network.
Ernesto Pernia, the Philippines’ socioeconomic planning secretary, said he wasn’t worried, noting that the funding was much smaller than the initial aid package, which expired in May.
The grant was to be more of a sign of confidence than something having a real impact on the economy, he said, adding that he would not lose sleep over the deferral.
Duterte boasted this week that he had personally killed criminal suspects when he was mayor of Davao City, in the southern Philippines. Under his tenure, hundreds of people were killed by what rights groups say were government-linked death squads.
The president’s embrace of violence has shocked other countries and brought condemnation from human rights groups, but Duterte remains popular among a large segment of Filipinos weary of crime and enthusiastic about his pledge to rid the country of drug dealers.