Malacañang dared the European Union to push the revocation of the country’s export tariff exemption after its lawmakers described the situation of the Philippines under the Duterte administration as a “deteriorating” state of human rights and press freedom.
In a resolution adopted on Thursday, the European Union’s legislative assembly said that “given the seriousness of the human rights violations in the country, 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.”
The said resolution mentioned the “deteriorating level of press freedom” in the Philippines, citing the libel cases of Rappler’s CEO Maria Ressa and its former research-writer as well as the shutdown of broadcasting media ABS-CBN.
In a virtual press briefing on Friday, a seemingly irate presidential spokesman Harry Roque dared the parliament, saying that Filipinos have nothing more to lose since the country’s economy has hit “rock bottom” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Kung gusto nilang dagdagan ang pahirap ng sambayang Pilipino sa panahon ng pandemya, so be it! Gawin na nila ang gusto nilang gawin! Sa mga panahon na ito, if they want to implement it, go ahead!” Roque said.
“I’m sorry I’m being very undiplomatic in my answer but what else can I say? At the time of a pandemic, they’re threatening us. Susmaryosep, what else do we lose?” he added.
The Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) status, which provides tariff exemption for 6,200 Filipino products as EU is the country’s 4th largest trading partner.
Roque said once the tariff perks are revoked, the EU lawmakers will be the “biggest contributor to the violation” of human rights.
“Kung gusto po nila ‘yan, wala po tayong magagawa. Hayaan po natin panoorin nila na lalong maghirap ang sambayanang Pilipino,” Roque stated.
He also blamed the Communist Party of the Philippines and its founder Joma Sison, who is in the Netherlands as a political refugee, for allegedly providing “misinformation” to the European lawmakers.
Confident to debunk allegations against PH
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, meanwhile, said an inter-agency working group is already coordinating with the European Commission, the main institution implementing the GSP+ scheme that grants zero tariffs for the country’s exports, to address the said issue.
“The EU Commission has a mechanism in place and process to follow to verify issues before sanctions are imposed. So far, we are 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,” Lopez said in a statement.
The EU lawmakers also criticized the alarming extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations committed in the Duterte government’s war on drugs.
The “impartial, transparent, independent and meaningful investigations into all extrajudicial killings, including the deaths of Jory Porquia, Randall ‘Randy’ Echanis and Zara Alvarez.”
Porquia, Echanis, and Alvarez were all activists killed by still unidentified assailants this year.
Moreover, the group also appealed to the Philippine government to “drop all politically motivated charges against Senator Leila de Lima, to release her while she awaits trial, to allow her to freely exercise her rights and duties as an elected representative, and to provide her with adequate security and sanitary conditions while in detention.”
They also expressed concerns on the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act, noting that “in no circumstance can advocacy, protest, dissent, strikes and other similar exercises of civil and political rights be considered terrorist acts.”
The EU Parliament also condemned all forms of violence against women, children, and LGBTQI people, increasing levels of corruption in the Philippine government, and the ongoing procedures to reinstate the death penalty.