MANILA- A delegation of European Union (EU) parliamentarians visiting Manila for wide-ranging talks is checking on the “political and human rights” situation in the country under President Rodrigo Duterte, multiple sources told ABS-CBN News Tuesday.
Four members of the European Parliament’s Sub-Committee on Human Rights are part of the delegation here on a four-day visit, keen on taking a close look at the human rights situation in the country following earlier expressions of concern over deaths and abuses allegedly involving state forces enforcing the President’s war on drugs.
While not a human rights review, the visit aims to get "the real picture [and] a better understanding of the situation in the Philippines," according to sources privy to preparatory meetings for the delegation's arrival.
The parliamentarians include Sweden’s Soraya Post, Hungary’s Adam Kosa, Austria’s Josef Weidenholzer, and Denmark’s Rikke Karlsson.
Speaking to reporters at the Senate, Post, who leads the delegation, called the visit a "fact-sharing mission."
"As we are friends, we are very interested in the development of the situation of human Rights in the Philippines," said Post, noting that there has been a "clear decrease on respect for human rights" not just in the Philippines but across the world.
She said EU Parliament members have "have heard a lot of killings in the drug war, the impunity, and to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 years," the last a reference to one of Duterte's anti-crime legislative priorities.
"So we want to speak about this, to discuss the development of the Philippines. But we wish also all the Philippines, the cities of the Philippines, good luck. It is our concern, it is the Filipinos’ concern, it’s the whole world’s concern. We live in a global society, so we have to share responsibility with what’s happening around the world," she said.
Post had spoken out against the Philippines’ war on drugs in a speech at the European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg, France on March 16, calling Duterte “a leading violator of human rights.”
Calling for an end to extrajudicial killings, Post had scored Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign, saying: “Drug users are publicly humiliated. Extrajudicial killings have become a daily event.”
Asked on Tuesday if her group had set a meeting with the President, Post said: "No, I don’t think we did that. Maybe I should. He seems to be a very interesting person."
The parliamentarians' visit comes amid testy ties between the Philippines and the EU following Duterte's harsh retort to the bloc's criticism of his war on drugs.
Former Senate President Edgardo Angara, the Philippines’ special envoy to the EU, said the visiting officials inquired about the country's human rights situation in their meeting early Tuesday morning with Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez.
"We had I think a pleasant and candid meeting this morning... The trade issues are tied to human rights and labor," Angara told ABS-CBN News.
"I think it was very clear during the discussions that they see some problems in some of the killings in the Philippines, but Sec. Lopez gave them the statistics and explained that some of them did not happen during police encounters, some were vigilante killings," Angara said.
Faced with international criticism of the anti-drug war, the Philippine government has many times asserted that oft-reported figures on killings in the Philippines--7,000 to 9,000--were inflated.
Latest Philippine National Police (PNP) data show that a total of 3,200 drug personalities were killed in anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 to June 20, 2017. This means an average of 9 people killed daily in presumed legitimate anti-drug operations in almost one year of the Duterte administration.
The PNP has also determined that out of the 12,833 homicide cases from July 1 2016 to June 16, 2017, 2,098 deaths were drug-related and 2,535 non-drug related.
A total of 8,200 homicide cases were under investigation "with motives to be determined," the PNP said.
"The bottomline is that the Philippine government as a whole is investigating these deaths. This is not a state-sanctioned policy," Angara said.
He said the roughly hour-and-a-half meeting, held at the Board of Investments office in Makati City, had a cooperative atmosphere.
"The mood and the atmosphere in this morning’s meeting with Secretary Lopez were warm, respectful of each other’s opinions," Angara said when reached by phone.
"They want to know more and dig deeper into the allegations. On our part, we said the entire government has been mobilized to take measures against the commission [of the killings], and the prevention and prosecution of the killings in a democratic way," he said.
Angara said the parliamentarians also met with labor officials on Tuesday. In the afternoon, they met with several senators.
The EU delegation is set to visit detained Sen. Leila de Lima Wednesday afternoon at her cell at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame.
De Lima, among the most vocal critics of Duterte's drug war, has been detained since February, ironically on drug charges. Denying the charges, the lawmaker called her incarceration "political persecution."
In a resolution issued in March, the EU Parliament had called for De Lima's "immediate release" as it condemned extrajudicial slays in the drug war.
Amid tensions, the Philippines and the EU reaffirmed ties in July, vowing in a joint statement their "continued commitment to further strengthen bilateral cooperation on a broad range of issues."
The Philippines and the EU are currently negotiating a free trade agreement.