VP Robredo: 200,000 jobs at stake if EU pushes trade sanctions vs PH over human rights issues

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 20) — Over 200,000 Filipinos could lose their jobs if the government fails to meet the standards set by the European Union amid its calls to step up efforts in tackling human rights abuses in the country, Vice President Leni Robredo said Sunday.

Citing data from the European Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, Robredo said that the Philippines' trade benefits under the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) program may lead to losses of up to 200,000 jobs related to exports to the 27 EU-member states.

She added that the Philippine government should focus its efforts on proving to the EU it did not commit any wrongdoing, instead of daring the international body to push through with its trade sanctions.

"Kapag tinanggal ito, ibig sabihin 200,000 jobs ang mawawala sa atin. Kapag tinanggal ito, about ₱108.9 billion in exports iyong mawawala sa atin kasi sisingilin na ng tax, na dati hindi naman sinisingil." Robredo said in her weekly radio show.

[Translation: If this privilege gets revoked, we will lose over 200,000 jobs. If this gets revoked, we will lose about ₱108.9 billion in exports because they will impose taxes which were not previously imposed.]

With the Philippines' GSP+ status, no tariff can be imposed on more than 6,200 Filipino products exported to Europe.

The Philippines previously said that it has been working with its United Nations Resident Coordinator for human rights cooperation, amid the threat of trade sanctions from the European Union over alleged killings and abuses in the country.

In a statement on Friday, the Philippine Mission to the United Nations in Geneva said consultations “have been going on for months” on a framework that will allow the UN “to support national efforts to uphold the human rights-based approach in governance.”

Among the agencies involved are the Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of Justice, which leads the inter-agency panel investigating the 5,655 anti-drug operations that resulted in deaths.

“The UN Joint Program will support the Philippine Government’s efforts to continue strengthening its domestic mechanisms and processes on accountability and rule of law,” the DFA said in a separate statement.

The government expects discussions to reach a conclusion by year-end, Ambassador Evan Garcia, Permanent Representative to the UN told High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in a briefing. The Philippine National Police and other agencies also sent proposals for the multi-year joint program.

There’s also an invitation for Bachelet’s office to support national programs on accountability mechanisms and the monitoring and implementation of the country’s human rights obligations.

Tough week for PH

Statements on the planned joint program on human rights came a day after the EU Parliament adopted a resolution seeking an end to drug-war killings and other human rights violations in the Philippines and pushing for immediate trade sanctions “in the absence of any substantial improvement and willingness to cooperate” on the part of local authorities.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said they are now coordinating with the EU Commission, the main institution implementing the GSP+ program. Lopez believes there's no reason for the privilege to be withdrawn, saying officials are "able to explain objectively" the Philippines' side on several issues.

Last week, the UN Human Rights Council’s 45th session opened with Bachelet expressing concern about the abuses across several countries, including the drug-related killings in the Philippines amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She called for an end to the policies and rhetoric that were said to have led to killings and human rights violations.

Bachelet said her office is seeking details from the Philippine government “so we can advise and assess” the scope, process, and efficacy of the panel reviewing these cases.

In response, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the country already has domestic institutions to promote accountability and assist “those who claim to be victims of human rights violations.”

Latest government data show 5,810 people were killed in anti-drug operations since the campaign began in July 2016. Local and international human rights groups say President Rodrigo Duterte's public pronouncements against drug suspects have resulted in thousands more extrajudicial killings, a claim Malacañang has repeatedly denied.