Last February 17, 2022, the 705-member European Parliament adopted with a vote of 627 votes in favor, 26 against and 31 abstentions, a new urgent resolution on the human rights situation in the Philippines. The resolution is the latest expression of concern over well documented cases of human rights violations including extra-judicial killings related to the Duterte administration’s bloody ‘war on drugs’, persistent attacks against human rights defenders, criminalization of dissent and red-tagging, and continued threats to rights of farmers, indigenous peoples, and workers.
The resolution was met with strong and swift condemnation from the Philippine government. Rather than addressing the issues and concerns, officials from the departments of foreign affairs (DFA) and trade and industry (DTI) took to the media to denounce the latest European Parliament resolution.
Trade Justice Pilipinas would like to respond to these statements by the government point by point. We urge the government to act on these concerns rather than attack groups and institutions raising these concerns.
1. HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS ARE FAKE NEWS
“Allegations on human rights and lack of press freedom are fake news, and those only give false impressions on the real situation in the Philippines”
The reports of human rights violations are not fake news. The Resolution actually cites as basis, the following statements and reports that describe the situation in the Philippines:
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Philippines at the 48th session of the Human Rights Council (October 2021)
Situation of Human Rights in the Philippines. Report from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. (July 2020)
ICC Pre-Trial Chamber order authorizing the Office of the Prosecutor to open an investigation into crimes against humanity including murders committed in the context of the ‘war on drugs’ under the administration of President Duterte and also into those allegedly perpetrated in Davao City by the so-called Davao Death Squad from 2011 to 2016.
“The European Parliament is “bullying” the Philippines”
“It is unfortunate that the politicians of a huge economic block are the one destroying the image of (a) small democratic country of peace-loving Filipinos, and it is like bullying a small country.”
(Quote from Sec. Lopez)
There is no bullying. The Philippine government applied for these preferences under GSP+. In fact when the government was campaigning for admission to the program, the DTI asked for our assistance in supporting lobby efforts in the European Parliament. At that time there was a strong opposition to the application of the Philippines coming from Spanish and Portuguese fisheries lobby groups. The Philippine effort to secure GSP+ privileges was successful partly because of the support of progressive members of the European Parliament. But the program is crystal clear. These special trade preferences, given unilaterally by the EU, are conditioned upon effective implementation of 27 or so human rights and labor rights conventions. Raising these human rights concerns on the part of the Parliamentarians should not be seen as bullying but rather an effort to push compliance by the Philippines of conditions it agreed upon in the first place.
3. ELECTORAL INTERFERENCE
“misguided attempt” of the European Union (EU) Parliament to interfere in the country’s electoral process (DFA Statement)
The concerns over the deteriorating human rights situation are leveled against the Duterte administration. How can this be seen as election meddling when Rodrigo Duterte is not on the ballot in 2022. If the Duterte government is so confident about its human rights record, then it should not be worried about the resolution, and be ready to respond directly to these concerns rather than brushing them aside as fake news, or imputing malice or political motivation to criticisms of its record. Besides, we see nothing wrong with highlighting human rights as an important election issue. Is the DFA saying otherwise?
4. PASSING BLAME ON THE EP
“I don’t think they will be turning their back on these noble development objectives (addressing poverty and inequality “(Quote from Sec. Ramon Lopez)
The Philippines was granted GSP+ status by the European Union in December 2014. The special incentive arrangement for sustainable development and good governance otherwise known as GSP+ provides additional tariff preferences when exporting to the European Union to developing countries which are vulnerable due to a lack of diversification and insufficient integration within the international trading system. 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 ensure effective implementation of its human rights and labor rights obligations. If these trade preferences are withdrawn by the EU, as it is within its power to do so, over the failure of the Philippine government to comply with its obligations under the program, then the blame should not be placed on the European Parliament or any other institution raising concerns over the failure to comply, but should fall squarely on the Duterte administration for not addressing these concerns.
5. UNDEMOCRATIC. EP SHOULD LISTEN TO ITS CITIZENS
“They (European Parliament) should ask the Filipinos in their companies or communities. They should also ask the EU citizens, the EU business chambers in the country.” (Quote from Sec. Ramon Lopez)
(EP should) listen “to more respectable sources than the militant front organizations masquerading as legitimate civil society organizations; the usual disgruntled members of a forlorn political opposition who clearly do not represent the majority of the Philippine electorate; and journalists who have a clear political agenda other than reporting the news in a fair and accurate manner.” (DFA Statement)
This is how the European Parliament describes the institution and its mission. “The European Parliament is the European Union’s only directly-elected institution. The Members of the European Parliament are directly elected by voters in all Member States to represent people’s interests with regard to EU law-making and to make sure other EU institutions are working democratically. The Parliament sees its role not only in promoting democratic decision-making in Europe but also in supporting the fight for democracy, freedom of speech and fair elections across the globe.”
The Asia Europe Peoples’ Forum (AEPF), an inter-regional network of progressive civil society organizations from across Europe and Asia, issued a statement in support of the European Parliaments February 2022 Resolution.
AEPF called on the European Commission (EC) to urgently act on the situation in the Philippines and initiate withdrawal procedures with respect to the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) granted to the Philippines.
Trade Justice Pilipinas, whose members supported the grant of GSP+ privileges to the Philippines in 2014 but has been critical of the human rights record under Duterte, and in 2019 called on the European Commission to initiate withdrawal procedures for GSP+, reiterate our strong support for the European Parliament Resolution urging the Philippine government to abide by its human rights and labor rights obligations or lose these trade preferences. We state again our position that the Duterte administration has forfeited these trade preferences by failing to address the worsening human rights situation in the country.#
Contact: Joseph Purugganan (09175460319; [email protected])