DTI chief says EU sees ‘progress’ in PH human rights

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 12 2023 04:51 PM | Updated as of Jul 27 2023 07:48 PM

Women’s groups, led by Gabriela, hold a protest at the gates of the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on July 22, 2022. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Women’s groups, led by Gabriela, hold a protest at the gates of the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on July 22, 2022. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The European Union has seen progress on the country's human rights conditions under President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr, which is among the country's trade obligations with the EU, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said on Wednesday.

Protection of human rights is among the Philippines' "obligations" under the EU's GSP Plus trade scheme which allows the country to export to the Europe without duties or with reduced tariffs, said Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual said.

"These obligations pertain to some values that they believed and which we also believed in and for which we have already signed international conventions like human rights, labor rights, protection of the environment," said Pascual, who just came back from a 3-week investment roadshow in the EU. 

"When we talked to them, they were checking, because they have raised certain issues in the past, you must have read in the papers and we briefed them on the latest developments about a few points that we don’t cover the whole range," Pascual told Palace reporters. 

"We just have very specific concerns that we were able to address and they were happy about it," he added. 

Pascual said during the investment roadshow, he met EU officials, members of their Parliament, and the EU Commission, and shared the human rights situation locally. 

"They have seen progress, it’s not as if nothing has happened to address the issues that they are concerned with," he said. 

"And you are all aware of this, you know they are well-published. They are actually the results of those matters that are of interest to the EU."

The preferential GSP Plus status was given to the Philippines in 2012. 

The trade agreement provides over 6,000 tariff lines "at zero duty upon entry into the EU," the Bureau of Customs said but access to the preferential trade scheme expires at the end of the year. 

Meanwhile, the Filipino trade delegation, which include representatives from the private sector, also discussed the resumption of talks on a free trade agreement between the EU and the Philippines.

Pascual described the resumption of talks on the free-trade deal as important, noting that this is more enduring. 

"So in order to disrupt the preferential trade arrangements available to our exporters, we need to shift to a more permanent platform for trade, and that is the free trade agreement.

Representatives from the European Parliament (EP) met with Philippine senators in February, with both parties maintaining their opposing positions on the Duterte administration's bloody drug war.

EP vice chairperson of the subcommittee on human rights Hannah Neumann had expressed their "deep concern" about the extrajudicial killings that occurred during the drug war, maintaining that the cases must be probed by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Relations with the usually pro-Western country deteriorated in recent years. Former President Rodrigo Duterte, who left office last year, frequently criticized Brussels over what he saw as its lecturing, while the EU was unequivocal in its condemnation of his brutal drug war.

The Manila government says around 6,000 people were killed, but human rights groups contend the death toll is far higher. The Duterte administration is also accused of weakening political and human rights across the board.

For his part, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. Marcos Jr. had said that the Philippines would not cooperate in the ICC's investigation in the Duterte drug war, saying the court has "no jurisdiction" in the country and the move was a "threat to our sovereignty."

— with a report from Deutsche Welle

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