By Jovic Yee
Europe’s parliamentarians on Thursday voted overwhelmingly 626 to seven, with 52 abstentions, to adopt a resolution to withdraw the Philippines’ trade benefits under the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) if the government did not abide by international conventions on human rights.
It was the third time since 2016 that the European Parliament has made the threat in the wake of extrajudicial killings linked to President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs in addition to deadly attacks on social activists, continuing corruption and threats against press freedom.
“We urge the government to take the right action and take more steps in addressing the issues raised by the resolution,” said Gerard Seno, national executive vice president of Associated Labor Unions (ALU), a 66-year-old labor federation which counts in its ranks more than 200,000 unionized workers in the manufacturing, services and agriculture sectors and sea-based Filipinos.
“[I]f the Philippine government fails to make the right response to the resolution, we will lose the [European] market, which [will] result [in] more unemployment and loss of business opportunities,” Seno said.
Citing figures from the Department of Trade and Industry, Seno said that since the GSP+ privilege was granted in 2014 Philippine exports to the 27-nation European Union have increased by 35 percent and created 200,000 more jobs.
“If the revocation of the GSP+ privilege is completed, we will lose these jobs,” he said.
No tariff is imposed on the more than 6,000 products exported to the European Union from the Philippines under the GSP+ trading privilege. Among these products are pineapples, mangoes, tuna, footwear and coffee.
Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua last week said 8.8 million jobs were lost between January and April due to the “very strict quarantine” imposed to control the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chua said the unemployment rate next year could range between 6 percent and 8 percent. The latest unemployment rate in July “improved” to 10 percent from 17.7 percent recorded in April, he said.
Aside from trade sanctions, the European Parliament’s resolution also called on the EU members to support a proposal to establish an “independent, international investigation” of human rights violations in the Philippines.
It said there were also threats, harassment, intimidation, rape and violence against those exposing extrajudicial killings; killings of human rights workers; and “deteriorating” press freedom in the country, citing the case of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, who was convicted of cyberlibel, and the shutdown of broadcast giant ABS-CBN.
The resolution also called for the immediate release of detained Sen. Leila de Lima, saying she was being held on “politically motivated charges.”
The European parliamentarian’s vote drew an angry reaction from presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, who dared them to “go ahead” and impose the sanction.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano also took offense at the resolution, calling it an “outright interference … in the purely domestic matters of the Philippines.”
“To our friends in the European Parliament, we have a saying here in the Philippines that the world is round,” he said in Filipino. “The day will come — and etch this in stone — that the Philippines will be in a position to impose economic sanctions on your countries.”
Opposition Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said Roque’s reaction was “sheer braggadocio.”
Roque’s assertion that “domestic institutions” like the courts, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) are in place to “promote accountability” in cases of rights violations is “a patent evasion of an independent international inquiry,” Lagman said.
“The CHR has no prosecutory powers, while the DOJ is a virtual adjunct of the presidency even as the courts have failed to resolve pending human rights cases, except for a very few,” he said.
Lagman said it was “self-serving” for the administration to bar an independent United Nations investigation through the UN Human Rights Council, of the country’s worsening state of human rights on the pretext of sovereign immunity.
De Lima on Saturday said that by his administration’s reaction to the European Parliament’s resolution, Mr. Duterte “would rather continue killing Filipinos than keep the trade benefits” from the European Union.
“Duterte calls it defending Philippine independence and sovereignty,” she said in a statement. “What he is not saying is that no government in the modern world can still claim to have the independence and sovereignty to summarily execute its own citizens.”
She also said Roque was peddling a lie when he blamed Jose Maria Sison for the European parliamentarians’ move without presenting proof.
Sison, the founding chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), lives in exile in the Netherlands.
“Duterte’s problem is not that Joma Sison has won over the EU. Duterte’s problem is that Hitler did not win the war in Europe,” De Lima said.
Mr. Duterte has become an “international pariah” who is not only isolated from his own people but from the rest of the world as well, according to the CPP.
“He is now among the ranks of Hitler, Mussolini, Marcos, Suharto, Idi Amin, Lukashenko, Park Chung Hee and other detested dictators who butchered their people and plundered their nation,” said CPP chief information officer Marco Valbuena in a statement.
He said Roque’s claim that the CPP influenced more than 600 European parliamentarians to vote for the resolution was “the height of this regime’s paranoia.”
“False it might be but thank you for the unwitting compliment,” Valbuena said.
—With reports from Leila B. Salaverria, Melvin Gascon and Delfin T. Mallari Jr.