European Parliament revoking Philippines tariff perks? Go ahead, says Palace
At a press briefing in Baguio City with a government team to check efforts against COVID-19, presidential spokesman Harry Roque lashed out at the European Parliament for threatening to impose more burden on Filipinos already suffering from the effects of the coronavirus disease pandemic.
STAR/ File
European Parliament revoking Philippines tariff perks? Go ahead, says Palace
Helen Flores (The Philippine Star) - September 19, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The European Parliament may “go ahead” with its push for the revocation of tariff perks for some Filipino products over alleged massive human rights abuses in the Philippines, Malacañang said yesterday.

At a press briefing in Baguio City with a government team to check efforts against COVID-19, presidential spokesman Harry Roque lashed out at the European Parliament for threatening to impose more burden on Filipinos already suffering from the effects of the coronavirus disease pandemic.

“Go ahead. It’s history repeating itself,” he said in Filipino, noting how the Philippines had suffered under colonial rule. “I am very undiplomatic in my answer. At the time of the pandemic, they are threatening us? What else can we lose?”

Members of the European Parliament have joined calls for the United Nations to lead an independent investigation into widespread killings in the Philippines related to President Duterte’s war on drugs.

In a resolution passed on Thursday, the lawmakers urged the European Union and its member-states to support the adoption of a resolution at the ongoing 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to establish an independent probe on human rights violations committed largely by security forces in the Philippines since Duterte’s assumption into office in 2016.

The resolution was adopted with 626 votes in favor, seven against and 52 abstentions.

Roque admitted that the move could have an impact on the country’s economy, which already suffered contraction due to the lockdown. He said members of the European Parliament were unaware of the real score on the human rights situation in the Philippines, and that opposition personalities were fanning hatred of Duterte abroad.

“You know what is happening in the European Parliament is a classic case of misinformation. Unfortunately, the enemies of state including the CPP-NPA, which has been classified as a terrorist group, are wielding strong power in Europe,” Roque said, referring to the local communist movement.

“The truth is (communist leader) Joma Sison, the number one terrorist, is based in Europe,” he added.

“So, it’s just a case of misinformation and if they will take a closer look on the case of (Rappler’s) Maria Ressa is for libel, it’s a case of bad journalism and bad lawyering,” Roque said.

He claimed Ressa did not even bother to appear before the court to defend herself. He added it was a private individual, and not the government, which sued her for libel.

On the shutdown of ABS-CBN, Roque said it was not a case of harassment of the media but the failure of the network giant to secure a franchise as mandated under the Constitution.

Roque urged lawmakers to do their part and explain to their counterparts in the European Parliament the situation in the country.

“You focus on your own problems, do not interfere, do not intrude into the affairs of this government.  Do not assault its sovereignty. You have no right to meddle in our sovereignty,” chief presidential counsel Salvador Panelo said in his daily program on PTV-4.

Presidential Communications Operations Office chief Martin Andanar maintained that the government was not harassing members of the media.

“We remain firm in our position on Ms. Maria Ressa and her unfounded allegations against President Duterte and his administration,” he said. “The freedom of expression and press freedom have never been and will never be curtailed under the Duterte administration.”

Mechanism in place

For the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), there is no reason for the EU to cancel perks for Philippine goods under the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+).

“The EU Commission has a mechanism in place and process to follow to verify issues before sanctions are imposed. So far, we are able to explain objectively the Philippines’ side on issues that are raised and we don’t see any reason why our GSP+ privilege will be withdrawn,” Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said in a Viber message yesterday.

He said the Philippines has always been working closely and fully cooperating with the EU Commission, the main EU institution in charge of implementing GSP+.

As a beneficiary of the GSP+, the Philippines can export 6,274 products to the EU at zero duty.

“It is precisely helping address poverty and attendant social and economic issues in many parts of the country, by allowing greater EU market access for Philippine products,” Lopez said. The Philippines has been a beneficiary of the EU GSP+ since December 2014.

As a condition for entitlement to the trade perks under the EU GSP+, the Philippines, like other beneficiary countries, has to implement 27 international conventions related to human rights, labor rights, protection of the environment and good governance.

Last year, 25 percent of the Philippines’ total exports to the EU, at almost 2 billion euros, benefited from the trade scheme.

The EU is the Philippines’ fourth largest trading partner, accounting for almost nine percent of the country’s total trade.

On Thursday, the European Parliament called on the Philippine government “to put an immediate end to all violence targeting suspected drug offenders and to disband private and state-backed paramilitary groups.”

They also said the “fight against illicit drugs must be pursued in full compliance with due process of law, in accordance with national and international law and with emphasis on public health.”

They also called for transparent and impartial probes on the deaths last month of peasant activist Randall Echanis and human rights worker Zara Alvarez.

The lawmakers called on the Philippine government to reverse its decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court, even as it urged the ICC “to continue its inquiry into the allegations of crimes against humanity in the context of the killings during the war on drugs.”

The Philippines, they said, should “cooperate fully” with the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC in its preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines.

Laila Matar, Human Rights Watch deputy director for the United Nations, noted that the worst violators of human rights around the world do not give independent investigators access to information.

She said the UN can conduct an investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines even without going to the country, citing the case of Syria.

“And we’ve seen time and again that the tools available to the UN Human Rights Council, mandating the Office of the High Commissioner of the Human Rights to do investigations that they can actually do robust investigation even without access to the country. So we’ve seen that in countries like Syria for example,” Matar told The Chiefs on Cignal TV’s One News on Thursday night.

“I’m not saying that’s ideal. What we hope the Philippines will do is be a responsible member of the international community, set their mind toward change and begin to open up for independent investigators,” she said.

“But if we don’t see the will for that, there are still ways to do those investigations from outside the country,” Matar added.

No to death penalty

The European Parliament also urged the Philippine government to immediately halt ongoing procedures to reinstate the death penalty, which the EU considers to be “cruel and inhuman punishment” and ineffective in deterring crimes.

It also denounced “all threats, harassment, intimidation, unfair prosecutions and violence against journalists” in the Philippines.

In their resolution, the European lawmakers also called on the government to drop “politically motivated charges” against Rappler’s Ressa and former writer-researcher Reynaldo Santos.

The parliament also urged the Philippine authorities to drop “all politically motivated charges” against Sen. Leila de Lima and called for her release while she awaits trial.

In a statement issued from her detention cell at Camp Crame, De Lima said she was “deeply grateful” to the European Parliament and to the international community for their support.

“I am deeply grateful that the international community, particularly the members of European Parliament, continue to fight for justice and human rights in the Philippines and show concern over my plight by closely monitoring the trumped-up charges brought up against me and fighting for my freedom,” she said.

“This recent resolution adopted by the European Parliament reminds us that the world is constantly watching and that justice will catch up to those who do injustice to others one way or another,” she said.

While welcoming the European Parliament resolution, De Lima also took the occasion to remind the UNHRC, the ICC and foreign governments to step up their efforts in fighting rights violators in the Philippines.

“I urge the UNHRC to set up the investigation of killings and rights abuses in the Philippines; the International Criminal Court to expedite its proceeding; and for foreign governments, wherever applicable, to enforce targeted sanctions against Filipino officials who are corrupt and/or rights violators,” De Lima said.

In March 2017 and April 2018, the European Parliament also adopted resolutions on the human rights situation in the Philippines, highlighting the political persecution of De Lima under the Duterte administration.  –  Louella Desiderio, Paolo Romero

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