EU wants PH to address human rights, free speech concerns

Published February 6, 2021, 6:09 PM

by Raymund Antonio

The Philippine government must address issues and concerns on human rights, freedom of information and expression, and political persecution of its critics, the European Union said.

Among the issues discussed during the first-ever Sub-Committee on Good Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights under the new European Union-Philippines Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) are the country’s anti-illegal drugs campaign, the cases of Senator Leila de Lima and journalist Maria Ressa, the right to freedom of information and expression, and the right to peaceful assembly.

During a video conference on February 5, the EU “encouraged the Philippines to continue its constructive engagement and address the issues raised in the report of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council.”

In a press release, the EU said it was looking forward “to tangible progress on human rights.”

In June 2020, the report of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights on the Philippines “emphasized the need for “independent, impartial and effective investigations into the killings.”

The EU highlighted the need to strengthen accountability and investigative measures, and placed particular emphasis on the country’s anti-illegal drug campaign, which saw massive extrajudicial killings of tens of thousands of suspected drug pushers and addicts since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016.

The union also raised the issue of the possible resumption of the death penalty law, which it said it “opposes in all circumstances.”

“Referring to the UN High Commissioner’s report, the EU called on the Philippines to address extra-judicial killings, provide remedies for victims and hold perpetrators accountable,” the statement said.

Although the Philippines “stated that its domestic accountability mechanisms are functioning,” the EU wants “to further strengthen national institutions and procedures in order to advance the fight against impunity.”

A review panel has already begun looking into cases connected with the anti-illegal drug campaign.

Persecution of critics

The meeting touched on the case of de Lima, who has been detained since February 2017, on weak grounds supporting her alleged ties to a drug syndicate. The senator is a vocal critic of Duterte since he was a mayor of his hometown, Davao City.

Another important point discussed “at length” during the meeting was EU’s commitment to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as the rights of the media.

They discussed the plight of the media workers such as Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, who is facing multiple libel charges believed to be filed against her by allies of the President. Duterte has also repeatedly maligned Ressa’s reputation in various public speeches.

“Both the EU and the Philippines recognized their obligations to take action to respect, protect and promote these freedoms,” the statement said.

But the EU isn’t only concerned about media freedom in the country. It also backed the right to peaceful assembly in a democratic country like the Philippines.

“Acknowledging that freedom of association and assembly and an enabling civic space are crucial components of any democracy and key building blocks for the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda, the EU and the Philippines agreed on the need to acknowledge, protect human rights defenders and enable their work in accordance with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.”

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals is a commitment to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development worldwide. It ensures that “no one is left behind.”

Among the agenda to fulfill the SDGs is the reaffirmation of the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other international instruments relating to human rights and international law.