The threat of the European Union to revoke tariff incentives on Manila’s exports over alleged human rights violations is alarming, particularly in this time of a world health emergency, the head of a think tank said Saturday.
Dindo Manhit, president of Stratbase ADR Institute, said losing a market would lead to unemployment, thus aggravating poverty. This, while the Philippine economy has been dragged into recession by the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.
But in the House of Representatives, the Makabayan Bloc welcomed the European Parliament’s resolution calling for an independent investigation on the human rights situation in the country.
Voting 626 in favor, 7 against and 52 abstention, the resolution also cited the call to junk the case of Maria Ressa of Rappler and its support for the granting of a broadcast franchise to ABS-CBN.
“This is a very positive and welcome move coming as it is from one of the world’s major and influential parliaments. The Duterte administration should seriously heed the recommendation of the EU parliament, otherwise, it will only further its isolation internationally “ said Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said.
“We have long been calling for an independent international probe on the spate of killings in the country like that of Bayan Muna coordinator Jory Porquia, Randall Echanis and Zara Alvarez, as well as other human rights violations.This is a push in the right direction,” he added
In Malacañang the other day, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque told a news conference: “If they (the European Union) want to add to the suffering of the Filipino people at this time of a pandemic, so be it…Let’s end the discussions already. They should do what they want to do. At this time, if they want to implement it, (let them) go ahead.”
Roque said: “Europe, go ahead. At the time of the pandemic, the whole world will pay tribute to you…They will be the biggest contributor to the violation of the right to life in the Philippines. Let’s leave it at that.”
Roque said the Philippines would not be browbeaten by EU lawmakers’ push to revoke the tariff perks for Filipino goods.
“I’m sorry I’m being very undiplomatic with my answer (but) what else can I say? At the time of the pandemic, they’re threatening us? My goodness. What else do we lose?”
“They cannot scare us anymore especially with the pandemic…they cannot scare us because we have hit rock bottom.”
Manhit said: “We cannot afford to lose an export market at this time. If you lose a market, even if it’s not that big, it would still hit the income of the country. There could be job loss and this could worsen poverty.”
According to him, the loss of an export market would mean less opportunity to sell Philippine products and could also impact jobs and push medium enterprises in the country to closure.
Fifty members of the European Parliament signed a joint motion seeking a resolution on the situation in the Philippines, particularly what it called the worsening state of human rights and media freedom in the country.
For his part, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman shared Zarate’s commendation to the European Parliament’s resolution.
“Neither braggadocio nor self-serving claims of sovereign independence can hide the dismal human rights record of the Duterte administration,” Lagman said.
“Human rights violations are global concerns which transcend sovereign boundaries justifying the call of lawmakers from the European Parliament for the United Nations to lead ‘an independent investigation into widespread killings in the Philippines related to President Duterte’s war on drugs,” Lagman added.
In a September 17 resolution, the European Union’s legislative assembly, “given the seriousness of the human rights violations in the (Philippines), calls on the European Commission, in the absence of any substantial improvement and willingness to cooperate on the part of the Philippine authorities, to immediately initiate the procedure which could lead to the temporary withdrawal of GSP+ preferences.”
In the case of the Philippines, the GSP+ covers 6,274 locally-made products.
In a statement, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez himself said the government was “able to explain objectively the Philippines side on issues that are raised and we don’t see any reason why our GSP+ privilege will be withdrawn.”
“The Philippines has always been working closely and fully cooperating with the EU Commission –the main EU institution in-charge of implementing the GSP+ scheme,” Lopez said.
He added: “We have an Inter-agency working group in place that attends to the regular monitoring visits and responds accordingly to various issues if and when they are officially raised by the EU Commission.”