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Robredo airs hope for more US grants

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Photo from Facebook | @VPLeniRobredoPH


WASHINGTON – Vice President Maria Leonor "Leni" Robredo aired hopes in Washington that  the Philippines can still avail grants from the US Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) as skyrocketing inflation could worsen poverty in the Philippines.


“I hope the Philippine government will be given the opportunity to pursue once again our application to receive grants from the MCC,” Robredo said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington where she also keynoted the CSIS-Pertamina Banyan Tree Leadership Forum and US-Philippines Strategic Initiative.


The MCC is an innovative and independent US foreign aid agency that helps lead the fight against global poverty.


Robredo disclosed that last December, the Philippines withdrew its application for a second aid package from the MCC.


Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno had said the withdrawal from the application for the grant was for policy independence, although former US president Barack Obama had criticized President Duterte’s war on drugs, souring ties between the US and the Philippines.


The Philippines received its first grant from the MCC from May 2011 to May 2016, amounting to $434 million.


“There has been a lot of talk that the reason why we did not get the second tranche of the MCC was our failure to comply with some of the agreements,” Robredo said.


“It is an opportunity for the US to demand from our government to comply with the basic tenets of democracy: respect for human rights, anti-corruption. I think we should continue to exert effort to be a worthy party of that agreement,” she added, noting that the poor Filipino people are the ones who will benefit from the grant.


“Especially now, inflation is very high in the Philippines, exchange rate is bad at this time. And it will be to the benefit of the country if that will happen very soon,” the Vice President said.


She supported the ongoing talks for a US-Philippines free trade agreement (FTA).


“The Philippines will always benefit from a free trade agreement. In fact, we have been lobbying for it, especially now that the trade deficit is at its largest... It is the responsibility of the government to comply with the requirements of the US,” she said.


The Philippines has recently started negotiations on a free trade agreement with the US.


Annual two-way trade of goods and services between the Philippines and its long-term ally totaled $27 billion in 2016, according to the Office of US Trade Representative.


In the same forum, Robredo admitted that the opposition Liberal Party which she heads would face a “tough” battle in the May 2019 elections.


“The President is still very popular and the candidates that he will endorse would have... you know... would benefit from the President’s popularity," she said.


Robredo said the opposition is hopeful that "we will be able to win a number of seats – in the Senate, at least.”


The  Liberal Party is fielding eight candidates for the senatorial race, including reelectionist Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV and former presidential candidate Manuel Mar Roxas.


Roxas lost to Duterte in the May 2016 elections. 


Robredo, who is a lawyer, said that political skirmishes with President Rodrigo Duterte will not deter her work to help the Filipino people.


“We have been surviving pretty well. I am, I think, the most vilified of all national government officials,” Robredo said when asked about her working relationship with the President.


“But I have not allowed it to affect the work that I’m doing. Most of my days are focused on reaching the farthest peripheries of the country,” she said.


Since October 2016, Robredo said her office has been assisting poor communities in different parts of the country through the Angat Buhay project.


“Despite the political skirmishes, I think it has not affected what I’m doing,” Robredo said.


Duterte has repeatedly belittled Robredo’s capabilities to lead the country, calling her “incompetent” and “weak.”

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