MANILA - The Philippines' failure to immediately pass laws that will reimpose the death penalty and lower the age of criminal liability helped the country retain its trade privileges from the European Union, the bloc's envoy to Manila said on Wednesday.
"I thought it was a good help also for GSP+ that the government and the political system decided not to push for capital punishment. I thought that was very helpful," Ambassador Franz Jessen said.
"I thought also that the discussion on reducing the criminal age started to be less important than it was at some point in 2017 was also a good step, showing that some of the dialogues that are going on within the country and also with foreign partners like the EU are helpful," he told reporters.
The Philippines is among 9 countries that qualify for the EU's Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus scheme, which removes tariffs on 66 percent of products as long as they commit to international agreements on human and labor rights, environmental protection and good governance.
The European Commission announced on Monday that Philippine shipments worth an estimated P120 billion ($2.35 billion), about 66 percent of annual exports to its number-two trading partner, would carry no duties.
Jessen said the EU Parliament would discuss in February the conclusions of the GSP+ reports that assess the progress of the Philippines and 9 other country-beneficiaries in implementing international conventions that they have ratified.
A follow up technical mission from Brussels will be visiting later to "look at more critical areas" and see the progress being made, he said.
He said the Philippine government "is understanding that more and more" the drug issue involves a social and health dimension.
"The importance of the EJKs (extra-judicial killings) has not decreased, but there has been a number of initiatives taken by the government where they have readjusted, there has also been some discussions within the security system on how to best deal with the issue of drug abuses, drug addicts," he said.
"It's an issue that remains important. It's not a new issue as I said before. It's an issue that has been there for years. EU is very firmly against capital punishment. We don't see this as helping and also with dignity, the right to life. We see this is not that way to move forward for countries including the Philippines. We are following it," he added.
Jessen said the Brussels' "key role" was not to judge Manila but "make sure that the relationship between the EU and the Philippines develops in a constructive way."
The international bloc has created halfway houses north of Manila as part of a drug rehabilitation program.