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Philippines stands to lose EU trade perks

By Beting Laygo Dolor, Editor

MANILA – The trade perks that the Philippines has been receiving from the European Union (EU) may be withdrawn unless the Marcos administration can prove that it has turned its back on the brutality of the previous regime.

Those perks are no small matter as they include zero tariff on goods that the Philippines exports to EU countries, estimated at more than 6,200 products under its Generalized System of Preferences Plus (GSP+).

The EU is the Philippines’ fourth largest trading partner after the US, China, and Japan.

The EU Parliament had previously “urged” the Philippines to improve its record on human rights, lest it lose the GSP+ perks.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently asked the EU to set clear guidelines to help it decide if the Philippines can maintain those fringe benefits due to accountability concerns.

HRW said the GSP+ should be used as a tool to help address human rights issues. To continue to be entitled to the GSP+, there are 27 international conventions on good governance, labor, the environment, and human rights that countries must comply with.

The EU’s biggest concern where the Philippines is concerned is the latter’s human rights record.

According to HRW, “the  EU should identify clear, time-bound human rights benchmarks that would guide its decision to end or renew the benefit to the Philippines. The EU should use GSP+ to improve rights by making it clear that renewing it will not come without tangible progress.”

That the EU is far from pleased with the progress of the Philippines can be gleaned by the statement last week of Eamon Gilmore, EU special representative for human rights, who pointed out that there have been painfully few convictions on former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

Gilmore said the Philippines must do more to exact accountability over the killings of drug suspects, whose number ranges from a low of 6,000 to as high as 30,000.

Only the cases of Kian Loyd Delos Santos, Reynaldo De Guzman, and Carl Arnaiz have resulted in murder convictions.

Gilmore told local media: “There have only been three convictions out of 6,600 acknowledged extrajudicial killings. I think those figures speak for themselves. There is clearly a need to do more in the area.”

Worst of all, after Duterte stepped down, the killings have not stopped.

“While the killings have decreased since Marcos took office, they still continue. In January, the International Criminal Court (ICC) resumed its investigation into these killings as possible crimes against humanity,” according to HRW.

President Ferdinand Marcos’ recent statement saying that he would stick with the Duterte regime’s “disengagement” from the ICC could yet result in the EU’s disengaging the Philippines from its GSP+, dealing a serious blow to the economy.