EU body cites ‘serious concerns’ over PH rights issues

MANILA, Philippines, February 14 ------ The European Commission has raised “serious concerns” over killings linked to the Duterte administration’s drug war, attacks on human rights defenders, and the possible reimposition of the death penalty, among others. In its report biennial report on the Generalised Scheme of Preference (GSP+) released earlier this week, the commission noted “a number of concerning issues in the case of the Philippines.”

The GSP+ status of the Philippines allowed the country to export over 6,000 product lines to the EU bloc at zero tariffs. To avail of the GSP+, a country must meet two conditions, namely the non-diversification of exports and low proportions of EU imports; and the ratification of 27 international conventions on human and labor rights, environment and governance principles and effective implementation of these conventions.

“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 the lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility,” the commission said in its report. “Ongoing dialogue is constructive but more needs to be done,” it added. The report assessed the performance of each of the nine beneficiaries of the GSP+ arrangement, including the Philippines. The monitoring mission was sent to the Philippines to conduct the assessment from September 27 to 4 October 2018.

According to the commission, “reports of thousands of extrajudicial killings of people allegedly involved in the drug trade and use and the lack of proper investigation” remain to be one of the “persistent ongoing concerns.” The EU body also expressed concern over “sustained attacks on human rights defenders, political opponents, members of the clergy, journalists, trade unionists, environmental defenders, and indigenous people.” The commission also called as a “worrying development” the possible reinstatement of the death penalty for drug offenses under the 18th Congress. It said that the reintroduction of capital punishment would violate the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the Philippines ratified in 2007.

The commission also said that if a draft bill reducing the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12 years is passed would go against international standards, as well as recommendations and general comments of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. “Lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 12 would be against the intention and spirit of the Convention of the Rights of the Child since states are obliged to take into account the maturity and best interests of a child,” the report read.