MANILA — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) urged the European Union (EU) Parliament to get its facts straight and to “listen to more respectable sources instead of obtaining information from militant front organizations posing as legitimate civil society organizations and disgruntled members of the political opposition who do not represent the majority of the Philippine electorate” on February 20.

The DFA called out the EU Parliament resolution as “unfair, largely baseless, and presumptuous, prompted by European supporters of libelous journalists and bitter critics of the Duterte administration because they miserably lost the previous election.”

It also condemned “the misguided attempt of the European Parliament to interfere in the electoral process through a recent resolution that raised fresh allegations of human rights violations and warned of possible trade sanctions.”

“Far from what is presented in the resolution, the Philippines is a vibrant democracy that respects and protects the freedoms of every citizen; and upholds all their rights, preeminently the rights to life, liberty, and, above all, safety and protection from the lawless and violent,” the DFA stated.

With 627 votes in favor, 26 against, and 31 abstentions, the EU Parliament on February 17, adopted the resolution urging the EU Commission to “set clear, public, time-bound benchmarks for the Philippines to comply with its human rights obligations and to immediately initiate the procedure which could lead to the temporary withdrawal of GSP+ preferences if there is no substantial improvement and willingness to cooperate on the part of the Philippine authorities.”

The European Parliament adopted similar resolutions in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2020.

“Parliament strongly condemns the thousands of extra-judicial killings and other serious human rights violations related to President Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ in the Philippines. It also condemns all intimidation and violence against those seeking to expose allegations of such abuses in the country, such as human rights activists, journalists and critics,” according to the resolution.

The resolution also urged the Philippine government to amend the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act and its implementing rules and regulations while asking the country to conduct “impartial, transparent, independent and meaningful investigations” into all extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearance of activists and into alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

“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.

Trade sanctions

In a report by The Philippine Star, European Parliament Vice-president Heidi Hautala said the Philippines has been enjoying tariff preference under the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) 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,” Hautala said.

The Philippines, according to a report by Rappler, should adhere to 27 international conventions on human and labor rights, the environment, and good governance to continue getting GSP+ special incentives and zero tariffs on 6,200 products ranging from fruits, animal and vegetable fat, textile, footwear, vehicle parts, and metals.

In 2020, 26 percent of the total Philippine exports to the EU enjoyed preferential treatment under the GSP+ scheme,” the report noted, with the EU accounting for the Philippines’ almost nine percent total trade in 2019 as the former fourth-largest trading partner.

PH compliant on human rights obligations — Trade Secretary

In another report by ONE News, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Sec. Ramon Lopez told reporters on a Viber message on February 19, that the Philippines is compliant with international conventions on human rights.

Lopez also chastised the EU Parliament for urging the country to take action on rights abuses lest it wants to suffer trade sanctions.

“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 DFA, on the other hand, insisted that the allegations raised by the EU Parliament are being addressed by the landmark United Nations Joint Programme (UNJP) for Human Rights, which it said is “framed precisely to address the issues but still respectful of the legal and accountable mechanisms that are already set in place in the country.”

“Substantive, credible and forward-looking, the UNJP seeks to strengthen the Philippines’ compliance with international human rights obligations, fortify the human rights dimension in law enforcement and investigative work, and enhance the capacity of national institutions and actors to promote and protect human rights while keeping the public safe: the paramount obligation of a state and the justification for the expense of maintaining one,” the statement read.

The Department of Justice (DOJ), for its part, has the Administrative Order 35 Task Force “investigating reports of violation of human rights and humanitarian law while holding accountable humanitarian law violations by terror groups known to recruit minors and use prohibited weapons, such as anti-personnel mines.”

“We therefore strongly advise EU Parliament Vice-president Heidi Hautala, to prove her information, specifically with the EU Delegation to the Philippines, before she demands anything from the Philippines. Her disrespectful language disregards these ongoing efforts of the Philippines and the United Nations, and the mechanisms and processes that inform their joint efforts to advance human rights,” according to the DFA.