Tue, June 28, 2022

international

EU warns Philippines of losing trade perks due to rights record


The European Parliament issued a resolution on Thursday underscoring the human rights situation in the Philippines and warning of the withdrawal of the country’s trade privileges with the European Union (EU).

MANILA, Philippines — The legislative body of the European Union also urged Philippine authorities “to step up their efforts to ensure fair and free elections and a nontoxic environment” for campaigning.

A total of 627 out of 684 members voted in favour of the “resolution of 17 February 2022 on the recent human rights developments in the Philippines.”

The Parliament called on the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, “to set clear, public, time-bound benchmarks for the Philippines to comply with its human rights obligations” under the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+).

‘Temporary withdrawal’

A special incentive scheme of the European Union for developing countries, GSP+ allows, in the case of the Philippines, the duty-free exportation of its goods to the 27 member states who make up the union.

Some 6,200 Philippine products have been exempted from tariffs since the country was granted that trade privilege in 2014.

The Parliament called on the commission to “immediately initiate the procedure [on] the temporary withdrawal of GSP+ preferences,” unless the Philippine government showed “substantial improvement and willingness” in addressing the country’s human rights situation.

Malacañang had yet to respond to Inquirer’s request for comment at press time.

For Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez: “It seems that some of their Parliament members are misinformed. The allegations are not new and are still unfounded. The government has always responded and been giving them the facts accordingly, and it has always facilitated the EU regular monitoring missions.”

Lopez said the country “still enjoys EU GSP+ preferences, and this redounds [s] to [the] benefit [of] the marginalized sectors of the economy—the fisherfolks, farmers, MSMEs (micro, small and medium-sized enterprises), the workers in the value chain of the exporters—precisely fulfilling the objectives of the GSP+ which is to help address poverty and inequality.”

‘Son of former dictator’

The European Parliament also said it “hopes to see fair and free elections leading to a new democratic government,” adding that it “regrets … that the Philippine authorities have not invited the EU to conduct an election observation mission.”

Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Hannah Neumann of Germany said during the plenary debates on Thursday that “the Philippine government has bluntly ignored [the European Union’s] request” to send a mission.

Through its Resolution No. 10470 issued in December last year, the Commission on Elections, particularly its education and information department, is the approving authority on the accreditation of any individual or group, whether local or foreign, seeking to take part in the 2022 general election as an observer.

The Parliament also urged “all candidates to refrain from using disinformation campaigns and troll armies, and to commit to fair and fact-based campaigning [to avoid] further divisions in Philippine society and politics.”

“Now that the campaigning has kicked off for the presidential election in May, fake news has become a particularly prevalent phenomenon in the country,” MEP Sean Kelly of Ireland said during the debates, a transcript of which is posted on the European Union’s website.

Kelly also noted with concern how “the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos is currently leading in the polls, whitewashing the thousands of atrocities of the Marcos regime in the [the 1970s] and ’80s.”

Red-tagging, De Lima

The EU body also sought “the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict [which is] in charge of [r]ed-tagging,” and called for an end to the government’s labelling of activists, journalists, critics, environmental defenders, and church and humanitarian workers, among other groups.

It urged the government to fully implement the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act and comply with its obligations under international law, and to amend the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 by international standards on counterterrorism.

The Parliament renewed its call for the government “to end the political harassment of Senator Leila de Lima [and] order her immediate and unconditional release.”

‘Lack of action’

Carlos Conde, the senior researcher of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, said the resolution “is an indictment of the government’s lack of action on many of the problems and issues the [European Parliament] has listed.”

According to government data as of 2019, foreign direct investments in the country coming from the European Union reached €14.4 billion (P838.7 billion), making the European bloc the largest single foreign investor in the country.

During the pandemic year of 2020, the European Union was the country’s fourth-largest trading partner, with trade between the two sides totalling €12.2 billion (P710.6 billion). The country’s top exports to the European Union are electronic products, coconut oil, manufactured goods, tuna, and machinery and transport equipment.

Dempsey Reyes, Leila B. Salaverria 

Philippine Daily Inquirer 

Published : February 20, 2022