TRADE SECRETARY Ramon M. Lopez said the European Commission should take a second look at the Philippines’ human rights and labor record after the commission raised “serious concerns” in its latest GSP+ report.
“We hope that they really look at the real numbers… right now it’s not even discussed much here kasi wala naman talaga tayong naririnig na violations (because there have been no reports of violations),” he told reporters Monday.
The European Commission expressed concern about the Philippine war on drugs and the President’s veto of the security of tenure bill in its GSP+ monitoring report released last week.
Under the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) up to 6,274 Philippine products enjoy zero-tariff entry to the European Union (EU) if the country buys into 27 core international conventions that include human and labor rights, environmental protection and good governance.
The report said the veto of the security of tenure (SoT) bill “came as a surprise” as the bill was designed to tackle abuse of labor contractualization.
Contractualization denies workers a path to permanent employment and benefits, with companies often terminating employment before the six-month deadline to offer employees permanent status. This forces employees to apply again, on a contract basis.
“Even if you took the veto of the SoT bill, that doesn’t mean we don’t observe labor rights,” Mr. Lopez said, adding that he believes a possible replacement of the proposed SoT bill would strengthen the labor sector.
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines party-list in October filed its own version of the bill, which is intended to criminalize all forms of contractualization.
The GSP+ report also called the possible return of the death penalty for drug offenders “a worrying development” that would violate an international protocol ratified by the Philippines in 2007.
“Persistent ongoing concerns since the last GSP report are the reports of thousands of extrajudicial killings of people allegedly involved in drug trade and use and the lack of proper investigation,” the report said.
Mr. Lopez said the commission should be “updated or briefed about the HR (human rights) situation,” saying that there have been more peaceful arrests.
The Philippine National Police in July said it had killed more than 5,500 people during drug raids. Rights groups and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that the number could be more than 27,000.
Mr. Lopez said he does not know how the European Union stands on the matter of continuing free trade talks with the Philippines.
He said the Philippines continues to be open to a possible free trade agreement with the European Union, and looks to improving the country’s GSP utilization rate.
“So far (what’s important is) we’re able to do the… annual monitoring. We’re able to answer (the commission’s) questions objectively,” he said. — Jenina P. Ibañez