Note: This open letter was addressed to then-EU Trade Commissioner Paul Hogan on 1 September 2020. We have since learned that Mr. Hogan resigned on 27 August and was replaced by Valdis Dombrovskis from Latvia.


1 September 2020


H.E. Phil Hogan

Trade Commissioner

European Union


Dear Commissioner Hogan,

We, the undersigned civil society organizations from the Philippines, write to you to express our collective demand for the immediate withdrawal of special trade special trade incentives granted to the Philippines under its Generalized System of Preferences or GSP+.

The grant of these preferences to the Philippines was conditioned on its fulfillment of its obligations under 27 Human Rights and Labor Rights conventions. It therefore is clear from the start that in order to continue to benefit from the scheme the Philippine government must abide by its commitment to:

  • Maintain ratification of the international conventions covered by GSP+
  • Ensure their effective implementation
  • Comply with reporting requirements
  • Accept regular monitoring in accordance with the conventions
  • Cooperate with the Commission and provide all necessary information

Under EU Regulations, “[w]here a GSP+ beneficiary country no longer fulfills the conditions, or withdraws any of its binding undertakings, the Commission shall be empowered to adopt a delegated act, in accordance with Article 36, to amend Annex III in order to remove that country from the list of GSP+ beneficiary countries.”

In the GSP+ assessment reports on the Philippines covering the periods of 2016-2017, and 2018-2019, the Commission had already expressed grave concern regarding the human rights situation in the country.

The latest assessment report already highlighted a “number of concerning issues including the war on drugs, shrinking civil space, the attacks against human rights defenders, the possible lowering of the minimum age of legal liability, and the reintroduction of the death penalty. The report concluded by stating “The campaign against illegal drugs in the Philippines continues to be a matter of grave concern, in particular the large number of related killings and prison overcrowding. Reintroducing the death penalty for drug related offences would be a worrying development and constitute a violation of the ICCPR’s Second Optional Protocol.”

Global Witness recently reported that in 2019, the Philippines is number 2 in global reported killings of environmental and land rights defenders, and the deadliest country in Asia. Agribusiness and mining projects are the activities with the highest links to these killings. The recent passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 only increases the risks and threats of environmental activists in the country.

Moreover, with regard to the Citra Mina Case1, the Committee of Freedom of Association of the ILO has found that the government has failed to comply with the Convention on Freedom of Association. Still, no High Level Mission has been sent by the ILO, nor invited or accepted by the Philippine Government.

We make this urgent demand in the wake of the recent pronouncement made by no less than President Rodrigo R. Duterte, in his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA), reiterating his call to Congress for “the swift passage of a law reviving the death penalty by lethal injection for crimes specified under the Comprehensive Dangerous [Drugs] Act of 2002.”

In the four years of the Duterte administration, we have witnessed the serious deterioration of the human rights situation in the country.

The report of the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) validates this point. The UN report details “widespread and systematic violations of human rights including extra judicial killings in the context of the campaign against illegal drugs. Furthermore, the report underscored that “[A]longside the intensified campaign against illegal drugs, the State has scaled up its response to countering terrorism and conflicts which also impact on human rights.”

Among the worrying new laws and amendments that are strongly being pushed by the President and the administration are the Anti-Terrorism Law, which was recently enacted, which according to the OHCHR “dilutes human rights safeguards, broadens the definition of terrorism and expands the period of detention without warrant from three to 14 days, extendable by another 10 days; and the proposed bills to restore the death penalty for drug offenses and to significantly lower the age of criminal responsibility.”

Time is of the essence.

There is no official public record of killings since the start of the current Administration in July 2016, but a conservative total cumulative number killed under the War on Drugs from the most reliable source stands at 8,6632. Other estimates may reach three folds the number while the killing continue with 53 documented cases with the start of the lockdown on March 16 from the Pandemic until July 15, 2020. For children’s case alone, from July 1, 2016 to 2019, 122 cases of children killed were recorded and verified.

Congress is now deliberating on the reinstatement of the death penalty posthaste, prioritizing the measure over more urgent laws and policies that are needed for us to effectively and efficiently address the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting public health and economic crises, with very little debate on the underlying legal, constitutional and moral issues and concerns raised by various civil society organizations and human rights networks.

The 1987 Constitution requires “compelling reasons involving heinous crimes” (Art. III Sec. 19 (1)) for the reinstatement of the death penalty. There are no compelling reasons to re-impose capital punishment, especially in light of Covid-19.

Furthermore, and contrary to Duterte’s own SONA statements, there is no conclusive proof that the death penalty deters the commission of crimes. Numerous studies however have shown how the death penalty disproportionally affects the poor.

In the wake of all of these developments and incontrovertible facts, we think that there is no other recourse now for the EU but to follow through on what the GSP+ program was designed to do as an incentive for its partners to fulfill their human rights obligations, and withdraw these trade preferences to the Philippines.


Respectfully yours,



  1. Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
  2. In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement
  3. Alyansa Tigil Mina
  4. Balaod Mindanao
  5. BWI Asia Pacific
  6. Center for Migrants Advocacy
  7. Childrens’ Legal Rights and Development Center, Inc.
  8. Citra Mina Workers Union
  9. Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific
  10. Federation and Cooperation of Cola, Beverage and Allied Industry Union FCCU-SENTRO
  11. Fishworkers’ Solidarity
  12. Focus on the Global South-Philippines
  13. Gensan Transportworkers Alliance-NCTU 5
  14. IDEALS, inc.
  15. Kaabag sa Sugbo Foundation
  16. Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya
  17. Lapanday Tampakan Employees Union-WSN-Sentro-IUF
  18. Lilak Purple Action for Indigenous Peoples Rights
  19. Medical Action Group, Inc.
  20. Network Against Killings in the Philippines (NAKPhil)
  21. Partido Manggagawa
  22. Philippine Human Rights Information Center
  23. Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc.
  24. Pinag-isang Tinig at Lakas ng Anakpawis-PIGLAS-SENTRO
  25. San Jose Ingtegrated Social Forestry Farmers Association
  26. SENTRO ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa
  27. Sentro SoCCSKSarGen
  28. SoCCSKSarGen Workers Network for Grassroots Advocacy
  29. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines
  30. The Silent Majority
  31. Womens’ Initiative for Social Empowerment (WISE-Soccsksargen)
  32. Woman Health Philippines
  33. World March of Women


  1. CASE NO. 3236 – Complaint against the Government of the Philippines presented by the International Union of Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF).

    Allegations: The complainant organization alleges anti-union practices, including anti-union dismissals and harassment, carried out by management against the United Workers of Citra Mina Group of Companies Union and the failure of the authorities to take corrective measures.

  2. page 5 No. 22 A/HRC/44/22 Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Philippines.