Duterte admin unfazed by EU parliament push for trade sanctions vs. PH over 'rapidly deteriorating human rights'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 18) — The Philippine government is unfazed by the European Union's push for trade sanctions over what the foreign lawmakers described as a "rapidly deteriorating human rights" situation and extrajudicial killings under President Rodrigo Duterte's administration, local officials indicated Friday.

The EU Parliament on Thursday adopted a resolution pushing for immediate trade sanctions against the Philippines. The resolution called on the European Commission to initiate the procedure for the temporary withdrawal of the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) program granted by the 27-nation bloc to the Philippines "in the absence of any substantial improvement and willingness to cooperate on the part of the Philippine authorities."

RELATED: EU Parliament denounces deterioration of human rights, press freedom in PH

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the Philippine government is cooperating with the EU Commission, the main institution implementing the GSP+ scheme that grants zero tarfifs for the country's exports to Europe.

He is confident Philippine representatives are effectively debunking the allegations.

"So far, we are able to explain objectively the Philippines side on issues that are raised and we don't see any reason why our GSP+ privilege will be withdrawn," he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque lost his cool following the threat from EU lawmakers. He said Filipinos have nothing more to lose since the country's economy has hit "rock bottom" due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Kung gusto nilang dagdagan ang pahirap ng samabayang Pilipino sa panahon ng pandemya, so be it! Gawin na nila ang gusto nilang gawin! Sa mga panahon na ito, if they want to implement it, go ahead!" he said on Friday during his media briefing.

[Translation: If they want to add to the burden of Filipinos in this time of pandemic, so be it! They can do whatever they want! If they want to implement it at this time, go ahead!]

He added that if the tariff perks are revoked, the EU lawmakers will be the "biggest contributor to the violation" of human rights.

He also said the decision of the European lawmakers was based on the "misinformation" perpetrated by the Communist Party of the Philippines and its founder Joma Sison, who is in the Netherlands as a political refugee.

European Parliament member Hannah Neumann said the Duterte administration continues to enjoy the benefits of the tariff deal despite his administration's dismal human rights record. She called for the "immediate" cancellation of this privilege by starting the revocation procedure on September 21.

"Duterte, the President of the Philippines, who is encouraging his own services to kill tens of thousands of people, still enjoys trade privileges of the EU under the GSP+ scheme, that are supposedly linked to improvements in human rights, but the situation is just getting worse," she said. "And that's why I'm so happy that across all political parties, in this resolution, we call on the Commission to start the procedure to revoke these privileges immediately, and to be frank, by immediately, we mean by Monday."

Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr., president of the Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc., emphasized it will take around two years for EU to remove the country's GSP privilege if it will push through.

He added the country only exports about 1.5 billion euros using the GSP, which only accounts to 25 percent of the total 8.5 billion euros exported to EU nations. A big factor here is the country's difficulty to follow protocols in the GSP privilege such as maintaining a steady agriculture sector, balanced ecology, and respecting human rights.

"We are one of the countries with the lowest usage of GSP," Ortiz-Luis told CNN Philippines' Rico Hizon.

If the sanctions will be implemented, Ortiz-Luis said its impact will be felt in the industries of garments, semi-conductors, marine products, tuna, and coconut products.

The GSP+ program grants the Philippines the benefit of exporting more than 6,000 products to any of the 28 member countries of EU at zero tariff. Products that may avail of the duty-free access include coconut and marine products, processed fruit, prepared food, animal and vegetable fats and oils, textiles, garments, headwear, footwear, furniture, umbrellas, and chemicals. The Philippines has been enjoying this perk since 2014.

To be accepted in the special incentive trade arrangement, countries must implement international conventions on human rights, among others.

The zero tarriff is important because it allows Philippines exports -–like fruits, vegetables and garments -- to better compete in the European market, benefitting small and medium enterprises in the country. Suspension of the GSP plus status would mean higher prices of Philippine exports to the European market.

The EU resolution — where 626 voted in favor, 7 against, and 52 abstained — reminded Philippine authorities of their obligations under the GSP+ scheme, particularly "with regard to human rights and of the consequences of failure to comply with those obligations."

The EU lawmakers asked for the help of the Commission and the European External Action Service to persuade the Philippine officials to put an end to alleged extrajudicial killings in connection with the Duterte administration's anti-drug campaign.

Government data shows over 6,000 people — including suspected drug users and dealers — have been killed in anti-illegal drug operations since Duterte took office in July 2016. Local and international rights groups, however, say tens of thousands more have died in extrajudicial killings, a claim the government has repeatedly denied. International rights group Human Rights Watch also said atrocities in the drug war worsened during the lockdown brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, citing a 50-percent spike in cases compared to the previous four-month period.

The Philippines, in several instances since Duterte's term started in 2016, rejected aid from the European Union. Duterte challenged the EU to pull out their aid to the Philippines after they expressed concerns over alleged extrajudicial killings in his bloody drug war.