A DELEGATION of European Union (EU) lawmakers  on Wednesday expressed “deep concern” about the Philippine government’s deadly war on drugs.

“The position, especially of the European Parliament, has been quite clear: That we are deeply concerned about the extrajudicial killings happening in the war on drugs,” Hannah Neumann, vice chairperson of the European Parliament subcommittee on human rights, told reporters in Manila.

She cited the slow wheels of justice for families of drug war victims. “With at least 6,000 people killed in the war on drugs, only 20 cases were filed and three people were convicted.”

Data from the Philippine government released in June 2021 showed at least 6,117 suspected drug dealers had been killed in police operations. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 suspects died.

Ms. Neumann expressed relief that the country is working toward the rehabilitation of drug users. “It has been a fruitful and constructive meeting that makes me relieved, that we are moving into a more constructive engagement.”

The EU lawmakers also backed the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigation of the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign under ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

“We, as the European Union, are members of the Rome Statute. We support the ICC and we see this as a potential to support the investigations into the killings,” Ms. Neumann said. 

Last month, the ICC pre-trial chamber reopened its investigation of the killings and so-called crimes against humanity under Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs. 

The Hague-based tribunal said it was not satisfied with Philippine efforts to probe the deaths.

“We clearly understand that, at least the senators we have met right now, see this differently,” Ms. Neumann said.

Senator Francis N. Tolentino, who facilitated the meeting, asked for respect in this regard. “We have already explained our position in the ICC, that we are asking for their respect to what’s being done by our country and government as a sovereign state,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.

He described the dialogue with the six EU lawmakers as “not necessarily tense” adding that it was a step in the right direction.

But Senator Ronald M. de la Rosa, who was Mr. Duterte’s police chief and chief enforcer of the war on drugs, said the discussion “was so intense that I cannot leave,” explaining his late attendance at a Senate hearing.

“I have to defend our sovereignty,” he said in mixed English and Filipino. “These Europeans, they are trying to… impose their standards upon us.”

Opposition Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros-Baraquel, who met the delegates separately, told them the ICC investigation would help the country “exhaust all means” to give justice to victims.

“We are waiting for the ICC process to ripen,” she said in a statement. “The work against impunity is so large, it is clear that we need all the assistance we can get.”

“It is important we remain transparent about the realities of our human rights situation here,” she added.

She also refuted claims that extrajudicial killings have stopped under the government of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., noting that there have been “no definitive steps to exact justice for the victims of the bloody policies enacted under the war on drugs.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Tolentino said they also discussed the extension of the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus or GSP+, an arrangement that allows the duty-free entry of more than 6,000 Philippine products to Europe.

“The relations between the European Union and the Philippines have always been a very close one,” Ms. Neumann said. “We are receiving so many overseas Filipino workers who are crucial and instrumental to our health systems, construction and all of that work in the European Union.”

“We also have very strong trade relations between the EU and the Philippines,” she added.

The six European Parliament members visited Manila to meet with their counterparts in Congress and talk about best practices and legislation, mainly focusing on human rights.

They will also pay courtesy calls on Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla and Trade Secretary Alfredo E. Pascual, as well as participate in a dialogue with Executive officials. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan