Philippines suspends aid from countries that back UN drug war probe

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 21) — The Philippines has suspended all negotiations on financial assistance from the 18 countries that called on the United Nations to investigate the Duterte administration's bloody war on drugs.

The order to halt talks has been in effect since August 27, but was denied by Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Friday. The Bureau of Customs, however, has published a copy of the memorandum on its website.

The order, signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea directed government officials to "suspend negotiations for and signing of all loan and grant agreements" from the counries that voted in favor of Iceland's resolution urging the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to probe the killings and other alleged human rights abuses in the Philippines.

READ: What to expect from UN's review of Philippine drug war

"The directive shall take effect immediately and shall remain effective until lifted by this office," order read.

The memorandum states the suspension was made "pending the assessment of our relations with these countries."

Seventeen other member states of the UN Human Rights Council voted to adopt Iceland's resolution on July 11. They are Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Slovakia, Spain, Ukraine, UK, and Uruguay. Fourteen other nations, including the Philippines and China, voted against the conduct of a probe. The remaining 15 abstained.

Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez received a copy of the order on September 4, while Customs Commissioner Rey Guerrero got it September 16, a copy of the memorandum showed.

When asked about what was earlier reported as a "confidential" memorandum, Panelo said, "The President has not issued any memorandum suspending loans and negotiations involving 18 countries that voted in favor of the Iceland resolution."

Medialdea signed the document, which states it was "by the order of" President Rodrigo Duterte.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Tedoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin, Jr. said stopping the aid talks with these countries was a "good idea," claiming the Philippines has "more than enough."

"We don't need the money; we've more than enough without turning to anyone outside except Japan of course whose generosity is unconditional, quick; and whose motivation is honestly to help the Philippines. The rest are tongue in cheek and negligible," Locsin said in a tweet on Friday.

Malacañang earlier said Duterte is "seriously considering" cutting diplomatic ties with Iceland. The President has repeatedly lashed out at the Nordic country as his administration maintained the Philippines will not allow UN investigators in the country.

READ: Philippines can condemn UN probe now, but rejecting findings would draw sanctions, Callamard says

Government data show at least 6,600 people have been killed in anti-illegal drug operations since Duterte took office in July 2016. Aside from the drug killings, the 18 countries asked the UN to investigate the following rights abuses: enforced disappearances; arbitrary arrest and detention; intimidation, persecution of, or violence against critics, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, journalists, and lawyers; and restrictions on the freedoms of opinion and expression.

The Duterte government has argued it does not need the international community to intervene because it can investigate these cases, noting the murder conviction of three cops in the killing of then 17-year-old Kian delos Santos in a police operation in 2017. But human rights groups are saying it is not enough assurance justice will also be served in the cases of thousands of other victims.