It’s a case of shoot first, ask questions later.
This was how Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano described the European Parliament after it expressed alarm over what it called the “deteriorating level of press freedom” following the rejection of the ABS-CBN legislative franchise and the filing of cyberlibel charges against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa.
In a resolution that received strong support from its members, the European Parliament also called for an independent investigation into the killing of several thousands of Filipinos in the Duterte government’s antidrug war.
“The Philippine House of Representatives takes exception to the outright interference of the European Parliament in the purely domestic matters of the Philippines by dictating on the government ‘to renew the broadcast license’ of ABS-CBN and to ‘drop’ the cyberlibel charges against Maria Ressa,” Cayetano said in a Facebook post.
Ressa has already been convicted by the Manila regional trial court.
The European Parliament also pushed for immediate trade sanctions against the Philippines.
The European legislative body registered a vote of 626 in favor, 7 against, and 52 abstentions to adopt the resolution.
Cayetano said members of the Lower House would have welcomed their colleagues from the European Union (EU) had the latter sought a dialogue to discuss the issues.
“We thus take offense that the EU Parliament criticized the Philippine government first before asking questions, and prior to ascertaining the facts,” he said.
Cayetano pointed out that Ressa’s conviction for cyberlibel was “never an issue of press freedom” because it was made by the court “after due hearings in accordance with the country’s constitutional due process and the standard procedures of the Philippine judicial system.”
He said press freedom was also not the issue in the denial of the franchise application of ABS-CBN, which he said was resolved “after fair, thorough, and impartial proceedings conducted by the House Committee on Legislative Franchises.”
“It is what it is – a denial of a privilege granted by the State because the applicant was seen as undeserving of the grant of a legislative franchise,” he said.
Cayetano said the Philippines has always valued and upheld its long tradition of press freedom because it is “deeply conscious that having a plurality of voices, including critical ones, is an essential requirement for the continued functioning of its cherished democracy.”
“Press freedom and the right to free expression are protected by no less than the Philippine Constitution, consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),” he said.
Cayetano said the Philippines, as a sovereign nation, deserves respect and even support “for our right to life and liberty, our sovereign right to self-determination.”
PH to lose 200,000 jobs if EU revokes tariff perks
Vice President Leni Robredo said yesterday that about 200,000 Filipino workers could lose their jobs should the Duterte administration let the European Union to revoke the country’s tariff perks for Filipino goods over alleged human rights abuses.
Robredo said that Philippines’ exports to the EU worth ₱108.9 billion will be affected when its Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) trading privilege is cancelled.
The GSP+ status allows the Philippines to export to the 27 EU-member states without duties or with reduced tariffs.
No tariff is imposed on 6,200 Filipino products. Among these goods are animal and vegetable oil, fruits, electrical equipment, footwear, textile, fish, and meat.
“May estimate dito ’yung European Chamber of Commerce sa Pilipinas na nata-translate ito to about 200,000 na trabaho (The European Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines has an estimate that this translates to 200,000 jobs),” she said.
“Kapag tinanggal ito, ito ‘yung mawawala sa atin (If it is revoked, this is what we will lose),” Robredo added.
In a resolution last week, the European Parliament recommended the revocation of the Philippines’ GSP+ status if the government did not abide by international conventions on human rights.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque dared the international body to “go ahead” with its threat to withdraw the country’s tariff perks over alleged human rights abuses.
Robredo said the government should prove to EU it did not commit any wrongdoing and that it is willing to cooperate so the GSP+ revocation will not happen.
Gov’t respects free speech, press freedom
The government continues to respect free speech and press freedom and does not engage in silencing critics, according to Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar.
Andanar highlighted the country’s vibrant democracy after the European Parliament called out the administration on the alleged deteriorating human rights situation in the country under President Duterte.
“Human rights, freedom of speech, and media freedom, among others, are vital and essential foundations in a democracy, an ideal that a country like ours values very much,” he said.
“These democratic facets, especially the plurality of voices, remain vibrant and alive under the administration of President Duterte, where we welcome and encourage all Filipinos to exercise their inherent rights for us to improve and implement better social services and socio-economic policies for our collective growth and development,” he said.
Andanar insisted that allegations about attempts to silence critics, including some media, are “wholly unfounded.”
“The freedom of expression and press freedom have never been and will never be curtailed by the Duterte administration,” he said.
He said the government has taken steps to ensure the protection of media rights and security such as the formation of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS).
“We remain in continuation, since 2016, of breaking the global stigma placed on the Philippines as one of the deadliest and worst places for journalists and media workers in the world as reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders,” he said.
Andanar cited a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey in 20019 that showed three out of five Filipinos believe that they can speak “openly and without fear” on different issues as reported.
The country has also retained a satisfactory position in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Democracy Index at 54th rank last year, he added.