By BERNIE CAHILES-MAGKILAT
The Philippines and EU have reaffirmed their commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, while recognizing the need for dialogue on the approaches on certain human rights issues during the first ever Joint Committee meeting under the new European Union – Philippines Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in Brussels.
The Joint Committee was launched in Brussels on 28 January 2020 to assess cooperation between the two parties and to strengthen and further mutual ties.
The meeting was jointly opened and co-chaired by Gunnar Wiegand, Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific in the European External Action Service, and H.E. Enrique A. Manalo, Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs for Policy, Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines. The Duterte administration’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs has been a thorny part in the relationship of the Philippines and EU with the latter being critical of the human rights violations arising from this drug war.
In a statement, the EU said that the Joint Committee adopted the Rules of Procedure of the Joint Committee and established three specialized subcommittees: on Development Cooperation, on Trade, Investment and Economic Cooperation and on Good Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights. These subcommittees will allow both parties to have dedicated fora to deepen their relationship on those issues. The Joint Committee shall continue to consider the creation of other subcommittees including on Transport, ICT and Health.
In this first Joint Committee, both parties reviewed existing cooperation and explored possibilities to enhance cooperation across different sectors: Security, economic, human rights, sustainable development goals, environment, natural resources, climate change and other sectoral areas, such as seafarers, illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, science and technology, education, information and communication technologies as well as connectivity.
The EU conveyed its continuing support and commitment to Mindanao peace and development especially in the Bangsamoro region and looks forward to the signature of the related financial agreements by the Government of the Philippines, amounting to €85 million in grant funding. The EU support is aimed at contributing to sustainable peace and development in Mindanao.
Both sides also acknowledged the importance of the EU-Philippines FTA and exchanged views on the prospects of continuing negotiations. They also discussed the effective implementation by the Philippines of its commitments under the international conventions underpinning the granting of GSP+ benefits.
The PCA is based on common principles and issues which are fundamental for both the EU and the Philippines. Both parties had an open and constructive exchange on these issues and looked forward to an in-depth discussion on them in the relevant subcommittees.
Both parties reaffirmed their commitment to the achievement of sustainable development goals and underlined the importance to mitigate climate change and protect natural resources.
On security matters, both parties welcomed the on-going cooperation on Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear threats, and looked forward to increasing cooperation on security matters. The EU and the Philippines further reaffirmed that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the overarching framework of legal order for the seas that must be respected by all countries.
The Philippines noted that the EU looks forward to the swift conclusion, steered by the Philippines, of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) that is consistent with international law, including the UNCLOS.
Meantime the EU expressed its condolences for the tragic loss of life and severe impact on livelihoods in the natural disasters that hit Mindanao, Leyte and most recently Calabarzon following the Taal volcano eruption.
In the recent eruption of Taal Volcano, the EU has provided emergency humanitarian assistance. “The EU stands ready to support the government’s efforts in Disaster Preparedness and Disaster Risk Reduction,” it said.
The next Joint Committee meeting will take place in the Philippines.