European Parliament calls for end to red-tagging, killings in Philippines

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
European Parliament calls for end to red-tagging, killings in Philippines
This file photo shows a protester holding a photo of couple Chai Lemita at Ariel Evangelista, who are among the nine activists killed in the bloody Calabarzon raids on March 7, 2021.
Kilusang Mayo Uno / released

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 2:12 p.m.) — The European Parliament has approved a fresh resolution condemning "drug war" killings and the red-tagging of activists and journalists in the Philippines as it warned of possible trade sanctions if calls remain unheeded.

The resolution called on the Philippine government to immediately end violence and human rights violations targeting suspected drug offenders and to stop labeling human rights and environmental defenders, journalists and trade union activists as supporters and allies of communist rebels.

"In this regard, [the European Parliament] calls for the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in charge of carrying out red-tagging," the resolution read, which also urged the government to amend the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act and its implementing rules and regulations.

Red-tagged rights alliance Karapatan welcomed the adoption of the resolution, and thanked the members of the European Parliament who voted pass it.

"We also laud the European Parliament, which categorically stated through the said resolution its position for the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, as it denounced the practice of red-tagging by government officials against activists, journalists and critics, exposing them to potential harm," the group also said.

"Such a position reaffirms the lack of credibility and the notoriety of the NTF-ELCAC, amid its hubris on its officials’ junkets in Europe," they said.

Karapatan, which the NTF-ELCAC has accused of being a communist front whose human rights work the government has equated with terrorism, has reported the loss of at least 13 rights defenders since the start of the Duterte administration. 

Activist Zara Alvarez, a paralegal for Karapatan, was shot dead in Bacolod City in 2020. Alvarez had been included in red-tagging posters that circulated in in the city along with other activists and human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos who was killed in 2018.

DOJ's 'drug war' review

The Philippine government has yet to respond but statements from abroad on the human rights situation in the Philippines are often dismissed as foreign interference. The government has maintained that it is aware of its obligation to defend and uphold human rights and that it has been doing that.

The Department of Justice has also been reviewing "drug war" cases where supposed drug personalities were killed and has found lapses in protocol in many of the cases reviewed.

The European Parliament also asked the Philippines to conduct "impartial, transparent, independent and meaningful investigations" into all extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance of activists and into alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

RELATED: 17 cops face murder raps over deaths of two ‘Bloody Sunday’ victims

It urged the government to release human rights defenders and journalists who have been unfairly detained, respect people’s right to freedom of expression and ensure that journalists can do their work without fear.

European parliamentarians likewise reiterated their call to end what they said was the persecution of Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa and the political harassment of Sen. Leila De Lima, who has been detained since 2017.

The resolution was adopted Thursday with 627 votes in favor, 26 against and 31 abstentions.

The European Parliament issued similar texts in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2020.

READ: DOJ: Four of 52 deadly PNP 'drug war' cases reviewed now in courts

Call for fair, free elections

European parliamentarians also raised concern that political rights “will be further violated and restricted” in the upcoming May polls.

“[The European Parliament] calls on all candidates to refrain from using disinformation campaigns and troll armies, and to commit to fair and fact-based campaigning, thus preventing further divisions in Philippine society and politics,” the resolution read.

They called on authorities to ensure fair and free elections and a non-toxic environment for online and offline campaigning.

“[The European Parliament] deplores the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines under President Duterte and hopes to see free and fair elections leading to a democratic government which upholds, investigates and prosecutes past human rights violations and rejoins the Rome Statute,” they said.

Opinion polls showed the son and namesake of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos as the frontrunner to succeed Duterte. Under the elder Marcos' Martial Law, 70,000 people were detained, 34,000 were tortured and 3,240 were killed. 

The junior Marcos and the clan's supporters dispute the figures as well as the accounts of victims and survivors. President Duterte, whose daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio is running for vice president, has often praised the elder Marcos and allowed the burial of his remains in the Libingan ng mga Bayani in November 2016.  

Trade sanctions

The parliamentarians "strongly" reiterated the call to the European Commission to initiate the procedure which could lead to the temporary withdrawal of Generalised Scheme of Preference (GSP+) “if there is no substantial improvement and willingness to cooperate on the part of the Philippine authorities.”

"How many rights defenders must lose their lives before we do something? I therefore call on the EU Commission to immediately begin the withdrawal of GSP+ which has been granted to the Philippines. We have to stop being complicit in this massive violation of human rights," said Marie Arena, chair of the European Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights.

According to European Parliament vice president Heidi Hautala, the Philippines has been enjoying tariff preference under the GSP+ scheme since 2014.

"The current GSP+ scheme is up for review, with the current arrangement coming to its end in 2023. Now the EU must see a steep positive curve in the Philippine human rights situation to be able to accept its possible reapplication to the scheme by 2024," she said.

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