MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines government said on Thursday it could live with less aid from the United States after an agency put on hold a decision to fund a second anti-poverty program.
The Millennium Challenge Corp (MCC), a U.S. poverty reduction agency, said on its website that its board had "deferred a vote on the reselection of the Philippines for compact development, subject to further review of concerns around rule of law and civil liberties".
U.S. embassy press attache Molly Koscina said the MCC would continue to monitor unfolding events in the Philippines, but like all country partners, it needed to demonstrate "commitment to the rule of law, due process and respect for human rights".
President Rodrigo Duterte told U.S. President Barack Obama to "go to hell" in October, and has alluded to severing ties with the old colonial power, after being infuriated by U.S. criticism of his war on drugs, which has claimed 2000 lives since he took office on July 1.
The MCC's first five-year $434 million compact with the Philippines closed in May.
"It's not going to be anything of significance. And given the amount of investments that many countries are interested in putting in, I would not lose sleep over that," Economic Planning Minister Ernesto Pernia told a briefing.
The Philippine Foreign Ministry, in response to the MCC's move, said: "The government remains committed to the goals to foster good governance and the rule of law in the country, and will continue to engage the MCC board to ensure that accurate and updated information on government policies and programs are provided to its members."
Pernia said the Duterte government, which has pledged to raise infrastructure spending to help lift economic growth in the country of more than 100 million, could tap other sources of financing in the region, including the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
The Philippines could raise between $200 million and $500 million in loans annually from the AIIB to fund infrastructure projects, a senator said last week, after the senate ratified the country's membership of the China-backed institution.
"The AIIB president was here the other day. He was trying to sell assistance," Pernia said.
Pernia said the government had met the Asian Development Bank and World Bank in recent days and would talk to Japanese and Korean officials looking for projects to invest in.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Manuel Mogato; Editing by Alison Williams)