The MCC grant and why Duterte has spurned it

Melanio Avelino, Jr. demystifies Western “aid” as a panacea for development, zeroing in on a grant from the U.S.’s Millennium Challenge Corporation and why President Duterte has found it fit to turn it down. With a style reminiscent of the irreverent Hunter S. Thompson, Avelino lashes out at “interventionism,” political “hegemony,” and decries the link between dangling the “carrot” of “aid” and wielding the “stick” of oppressive relations.

In global politics or in the world of international relations, any "aid" is used by superpowers as a tool to control the affairs of their “allies” in ensuring that the latter will promote and protect the former’s imperialistic interests. In the case of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant, it is clearly a form of US aid extended to countries who pledge to serve the interests of the US on their soil. How would you expect America to throw away USD 500M as a grant without getting something in return? America is not a charity institution which shells out huge sums in the name of “helping humanity!” It spends billions of aid in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other war-torn countries to prevent war from reaching American soil while blindly ignoring the tens of thousands of deaths resulting from the proxy wars it has clandestinely funded out of its “aid” abroad. This is the price America has to pay in keeping her safe.

The US is not rich, either. As of August 2017, the US Government owed China USD 1.2 trillion. And by using a bit of common sense, would the US just burn a whopping half a billion dollars for the Philippines for nothing, notwithstanding how financially pressed its government is these days?

During the previous administration of President Aquino, the Philippines had qualified as a recipient of the MCC grant under which the country received USD 434M in 2010. (Whatever happened with the amount, we do not know). That explains the subservience of the Aquino administration to the US dictate on certain affairs of our governance as a tacit caveat to the granting of the aid which PNoy and his cohorts had drooled for. An example of that dictate was the case lodged by the Philippines against China at the prodding of the US at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) where China refused to participate. Hence, the ruling issued by the tribunal became unenforceable. The filing of that case yielded nothing for the country but only a heightened enmity with our giant neighbor – China.

The Aquino Administration’s handling of the South China Sea issue was a clear display of its blind subservience to the dictate of the US in serving its interest on our soil. It is a blatant disregard on our own national interest, a treasonous act and a grave insult to our country’s sovereignty which was surrendered at the behest of Uncle Sam.

America refuses to face China head-on with respect to the South China Sea issue due to the adverse ramifications it may cause. After all, it owes China more than a trillion dollars, aside from the fact that America is the largest trading partner of China. But China’s perceived expansionist moves in the South China Sea has threatened US hegemony in the region, leading the US to try and stop China from challenging its control in this part of the world. It therefore has no option left but to resort to its proxy war approach which entails using a country ally to fight (on US behalf) its perceived enemy. Sadly for the Philippines, during the term of Aquino, the country’s sovereignty was prostituted like a brainless pawn used by the US in its proxy war with China. Hence, the case filed at the PCA.

Folks, the South China Sea issue is such a gigantic concern which involves not only the claimant countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. More importantly, it involves the interests of Europe, the UK, the US, Japan, South Korea and even Australia due to the importance to these countries of that international waterway. Some USD 5 trillion worth of global trade passes through that maritime highway every year. If China shuts these waterways off, global trade will be in deep sh*t!

Clearly, the South China Sea issue is the concern of all parties involved. Therefore, confronting China should be a collective effort of everyone concerned, and not just the Philippines whose affected claim in the territory constitutes probably less than five percent of the total South China Sea area. But why on earth did the Aquino administration take the cudgel for everyone to single-handedly challenge China’s 9-Dash Line Map Claim while the rest of the world, including the US, the UK and Europe, and even the UN, were just in the sidelines watching and waiting for the outcome? In the whole process, these countries continued to enjoy their business and economic activities with China, especially Europe and the US, while the Philippines suffered the brunt of China’s wrath by imposing economic and business restrictions, not to mention the fortification of the islands in the Spratlys we claimed ownership of during the Aquino administration.

What is ridiculously disturbing here is the fact that the mad dogs of the previous administration are now trying to impress upon the public that President Duterte has not done anything to stop China from continuously constructing structures in the areas where we have claims. This is a grave and malicious lie! These fortified islands were constructed by China during the Aquino administration since 2012 in response to the case filed by the latter against China at the PCA. The construction activiteis stopped only when Digong became President and he began talking to China, offered the country’s hand of friendship, and forged bilateral negotiations to solve the problem which China had preferred at the onset but which Aquino ignored. The structures were constructed under the nose of the Aquino government and monitored by the US, which did nothing to stop it. Duterte cannot use the ruling of the PCA to ask China to abandon the fortified islands, the ruling being unenforceable under international law. China never participated in the proceedings which renders it not being a party thereof. But Duterte had said he would eventually take the matter up with China when the opportune time comes within his administration. Such pronouncement is part of a diplomatic strategy as any international relations student may ascertain and for which, the previous administration never had.

Duterte knows that America needs the Philippines more than the latter needs America on the South China Sea issue. Aside from our strategic location, we are the only ally of the US which it can use to keep the balance of power in the region and to prevent China from trampling upon US control over this part of the world. And it’s clear that Duterte is using our country’s card well to position itself in the global diplomatic stage in keeping the balance of power in the region to the benefit not only of America and China but all countries around the South East and East Asian regions. By shying away from the shadow of Uncle Sam and projecting itself as an independent state, the Philippines is now a country to reckon with in the equation of the region’s politics, and no longer a puppet of America!

It has become obvious that the Aquino government allowed itself to be used by the US Government in its fight against China. Such an act was the consequence of the previous administration’s willingness to swallow hook, line, and sinker all conditions set forth under the 2010 US Government’s Millennium Challenge (MCC) grant of USD 434M given to it at the expense of our sovereignty. Thereafter, the Aquino administration had no choice but to bow to the dictates of the US in exchange of such a huge amount of “aid.” Hence, the mess that came to be in the South China Sea.

In contrast, when Duterte came into power and declared thereafter the country’s independence in foreign policy and its diplomatic openness to China and Russia, the MCC immediately announced in December 2016 the deferment of the Philippines' re-selection to receive the money previously received by the Aquino Government under the pretext that the country scored low on civil liberties and the rule of law. What? Did it mean to say that it completed such an assessment and conclusion already in less than five months of the Duterte presidency? Sanamagan!!!

Obviously, the deferment of the country’s re-selection for grant eligibility is like the so-called carrot-and-stick metaphor which the US wants to impose on Duterte, warning his administration to lose US aid if he refused to kiss Uncle Sam’s ass. Of course, Duterte detests even the thought of it being an affront on our sovereignty, condemning in the strongest terms any iota of US intervention on our domestic affairs. Hence, the withdrawal of our application of the MCC grant due to such conditions imposed which tend to insult our independence as a sovereign country.

As a Filipino—and an OFW at that—I couldn’t be prouder when traveling to other countries, especially when friends of different nationalities express admiration of Duterte standing up against America’s interventionist policy, camouflaged as it may be with so-called assistance or aid. By withdrawing from the MCC grant, Duterte is sternly telling America that there is no price tag on our sovereignty as a country. And by doing that, Duterte is reminding all Filipinos of whatever ideological persuasion that Philippine independence under his administration can never be for sale!

The global warning, “Beware of Aids,” is real, folks. It is worse than any deadly HIV virus, especially coming from the US Government. It does not only kill people. It annihilates a race and destroys a country’s well being. President Duterte has done right in sparing our country from this mayhem!

No to the MCC grant with interventionist conditions!

Mr. Avelino, a Manobo from Malita, Davao Occidental, completed his undergraduate study in International Relations from the King Faisal Center for Islamic and Arabic Studies of the Mindanao State University in Marawi City. During the Ramos Administration, he served in the now-defunct Mindanao Economic Development Council Secretariat. After stints with donor-driven programs in Mindanao, he is now an Overseas Filipino Worker serving a global company with operations in the Middle East, Asia and Europe.