By Roy Stephen C. Canivel,

Death penalty opponents warn of EU trade risks

Posted on January 04, 2017

MEMBERS of the House said they will work when session resume this month to highlight the economic consequences of restoring the death penalty, particularly the expected negative response from the European Union (EU), a major export destination.

Albay Rep. Edcel C. Lagman (1st district) told BusinessWorld that he and his colleagues plan to focus on the risks to the country’s membership in the Generalized System of Preferences Plus (GSP+) scheme, a zero-tariff privilege granted by the EU on condition of compliance with key international conventions, including commitments to abolish the death penalty.

“We are going to take that up again in the plenary. That is a very important repercussion,” he said in a phone interview last month.

“We are going to tell them that we have these tariff-free privileges from the Europe and if we insist on restoring death penalty we are going to lose these privileges.”

Mr. Lagman said that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has not approached his group on the matter, while clarifying that he and his colleagues are acting under their “own initiative.” As of press time, DTI Secretary Ramon M. Lopez has not responded to requests for comment.

The GSP+ was granted to the Philippines in December 2014, making it the lone country in the ASEAN region which has benefited from tariff-free exports of over 6,000 product categories.

The Philippines bagged wider EU access for its products on the condition that the comply with 27 international conventions, including a commitment against the death penalty.

The country ratified in 1986 the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which binds parties to ensure basic freedoms, as well as avoid cruel forms of punishment. Then in 2007, the country did the same for ICCPR’s Second Optional Protocol that bound signatories to support efforts to abolish the death penalty.

Ifugao Rep. Teddy B. Baguilat said that the discussions on the death penalty still have not focused on the possible risks to exports, adding that many representatives are still undecided.

“There is still not much focus on economic costs. What has been discussed so far is the crime deterrence and crime statistics,” he told BusinessWorld in a phone interview on Dec. 22.

More than a decade has passed since the death penalty was abolished through Republic Act No. 9346, approved in June 2006.

The government is seeking to bring back capital punishment as a deterrent to crime.

A bill on this matter hurdled the justice committee of the House of Representatives earlier this month and is expected to bag plenary approval when lawmakers return next month from their Christmas and New Year break.

In December, senior officials in the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the United Nations appealed to Congress to honor the second optional protocol, which would otherwise be breached with the passage of the death penalty bill.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in an open letter dated Dec. 6 that there is no opt-out mechanism in the protocol, pointing to a clear violation of the international commitment should Congress go through with the law.

This breach, according to CHR Commissioner Karen Lucia S. Gomez Dumpit, would “negatively affect” the country’s GSP+ status eventually.

Nevertheless, she said that the commission is still hoping that Congress would have a change of heart.

“Initially, the Speaker was very confident that he will get to pass the proposal before Christmas. It hasn’t happened and we are hopeful that it won’t run its course. We are not yet throwing in the towel,” she said in a Dec. 22 interview, referring to House Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez.

“We have our champions in the House. We also have our champions in the Senate. But right now, the ball is in the House.”

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority suggest that exports have received a boost since the grant of the GSP+ privilege.

Before the grant of the GSP+ status two years ago, the Philippines was covered by EU’s regular GSP which accorded zero duty treatment on only 2,442 products and reduced tariffs for 3,767 others.

Merchandise exports to EU grew 2.6% in 2014 -- the year when the country had only regular GSP status -- to $6.73 billion from $6.55 billion in 2013, PSA data showed.

A full year with wider access for exports saw a 6.8% jump in 2015 to $7.17 billion from a revised 2014 trade figure of $6.71 billion.

However,there was a 4.6% decrease in the first 10 months of 2016 to $5.69 billion.