By Corina Oliquino

MANILA — European lawmakers recommended last September 17 the revocation of the Philippines’ Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) status “given the seriousness of the human rights violations”

The EU grants the GSP+ status, which provides duty-free entry for 6,274 products from the Philippines including fruits, animal and vegetable fat, textile, footwear, vehicle parts and metals, only to countries which have ratified “27 core international conventions on human and labor rights, environmental protection and good governance.”

The European Union (EU) Parliament adopted a resolution “calling on the European Commission, in the absence of any substantial improvement and willingness to cooperate on the part of the Philippine authorities, to immediately initiate the procedure which could lead to the temporary withdrawal of GSP+ preferences” after getting 626 votes in favor, seven against and 52 abstentions.

In a report by Rappler, EU Parliament Press officer Victor Almqvist confirmed in a text message the resolution was adopted as a whole last week.

EU Parliament Member Hannah Neumann, on the other hand, claimed the Duterte Administration repeatedly violated human rights and attacked journalists including Rappler CEO Maria Ressa.

“We don’t have these many tools in the EU to protect human rights and democracy, and maybe our trade policy is the strongest one,” Neumann said, noting Duterte “still enjoys trade privileges of the EU under the GSP+ scheme that are supposedly linked to improvements in human rights even as the situation is just getting worse.”

“We call on the commission to start on the procedure to revoke these privileges immediately. To be frank, by immediately, we mean by Monday,” she added.

In 2017, an EU Parliament resolution warned the Philippines of “the possible removal of GSP+ preferences” if the human rights situation does not improve.

Globally, the EU is the Philippines fourth largest trading partner as it accounts for almost nine percent of the country’s total trade in 2019 following China, Japan and the US.

Malacañang unfazed by revocation threat

In another report by Rappler, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Filipinos are “ready to suffer” should the EU push through with its plan to revoke tariff perks.

In a virtual press briefing on September 18, Roque said Filipinos are ready for more hardships as he brought up the abuses during the colonization of Spain, an EU member.

“Dahil tayo naman pong mga Pilipino, 300 years na po tayong naghirap sa ilalim ng isang European country. Umuulit lang naman po ang kasaysayan. Tatanggapin po ‘yan ng Pilipino pero tayo po ay makakaahon taas-noo kahit ano’ng gawin ng ating mga colonial masters,” Roque said.

“Kung gusto po nila ‘yan, wala po tayong magagawa. Hayaan po natin panoorin nila na lalong maghirap ang sambayanang Pilipino,” he added.

Amid Roque’s stance, Trade Sec. Ramon Lopez said an inter-agency working group is making sure Philippine officials address issues raised by the European Commission.

“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 and we don’t see any reason why our GSP+ privilege will be withdrawn,” Lopez said.

200K+ jobs at risk

In a report by The Philippine Star’s One News, Vice-president Leni Robredo on her weekly program over dzXL last September 20, warned the Philippines may lose up to ₱108.9 billion in export revenues and 200,000 local jobs should the EU proceed with revoking the country’s tariff perks.

Robredo, citing data from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), said Philippine exports to European member states increased by 27 percent or equivalent to $108.9 billion after the granting of the GSP+ status in December 2014.

“The European Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines translates this to about 200,000 jobs here. So there are 200,000 jobs because we have expanded our exports to the EU under the GSP+,” Robredo said, noting the Duterte Administration should just give assurance that the country will remain committed to the treaties it signed along with EU member states instead of challenging European lawmakers to push through with their threat.

“The right stance is to prove to the EU that we don’t have any violations,” she added