By BERNIE CAHILES-MAGKILAT
Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez has dismissed as an “old charade” the “serious concerns” raised by the European Union (EU), in its latest Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP Plus) Review report on the Philippines human rights, war on drugs, shrinking civil society space, reintroduction of death penalty and the lowering of minimum age of criminal responsibility.
“To me, those are old concerns. In fact, they should really look at the numbers because it is no longer as noisy as before. Right now it’s not even discussed much here because we have not really heard of violations,” Lopez said.
In its third biennial report published on February 10, 2020 on the EU-Generalized Scheme of Preferences Review, the EU stated, “There are a number of concerning issues in the case of the Philippines, including the war on drugs, shrinking civil society space, attacks on human rights defenders, the possible reintroduction of the death penalty, and lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility. Ongoing dialogue is constructive but more needs to be done.”
In the area of drug control, the report cited the International Drug Control Board which has expressed serious concern at the country’s “war on drugs,” the related reports of extra-judicial killings, and the intentions to use the death penalty for drug-related crimes.
Lopez stressed that if EU would just have to be updated or be briefed about the human rights situation they should appreciate the increasing level of more peaceful arrest than the violent ones.
On a more positive note, the report cited the Philippines for making progress in addressing poverty, hunger, and unemployment, and took some further measures on environmental protection.
Lopez said labor is the least of the issues even with the presidential veto on the Security of Tenure Act because the veto did not mean the country does not observe labor rights. The EU has called for improved enforcement and sustained monitoring. It said that child labor is an area where more progress is necessary.
The trade chief refused to comment on the impact of the report on the country’s ongoing bid towards forging bilateral free trade agreement with the 21-member state political and economic bloc.
While the Philippines has put importance on the planned Philippines-EU FTA, Lopez said, “Frankly, I don’t know their stand on the FTA. even with the new trade commissioner. I’m not sure about their priorities.”