MANILA – A delegation of European legislators said the human rights situation in the Philippines is “better” under the current administration compared to the time of former President Rodrigo Duterte.
“It is better than it was under President Duterte, I think that we can clearly state. We clearly had the impression that everyone was very willing to discuss human rights issue with us which has not been the case under the previous administration,” Hannah Neumann, vice president of the European Parliament (EP) Subcommittee on Human Rights, said in a press conference Friday.
Neumann was speaking in Makati on the last day of her delegation’s official Manila visit where they met with government officials and stakeholders to discuss developments on human rights.
In a statement, the delegation welcomed the Marcos administration’s commitment to engage on human rights with the international community, including UN mechanisms.
Neumann said they were encouraged by “promising first steps and announcements in this regard,” notably within the framework of the Universal Periodic Review.
“We also clearly note favorably the President’s commitment to change the focus of the so-called war on drug away from a punitive and deadly approach towards more prevention and rehabilitation, and welcomed the commitment not to reintroduce the death penalty,” she said.
Meanwhile, the delegation noted that they were “made aware of continuing extra judicial killings” and underscored the importance of investigating into each case.
“We further want to underline that the EU would be very happy to see the Philippines rejoining the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) – to which all member states of the EU are signatories because it would reinforce the government’s stated commitment to fighting impunity,” Neumann said.
‘Technical expertise offered’
Neumann believes allowing the ICC to enter the country would contribute to the investigation of the more than 6,000 deaths reported during the previous administration’s campaign against illegal drugs.
“If there are 6,000 cases and the government is sincere with building accountability and investigating these, this means 6,000 cases need to be filed, witnesses have to be found, evidence need to be collected— 6,000 cases. And we’re are now, nine months into the new administration, 25 cases are being filed, three people are being sentenced,” she said.
The European lawmaker said the EU is “very willing” to extend assistance and technical expertise, noting that properly probing over 6,000 cases “will take basically forever” based on this current trajectory.
“For us, asking the ICC to come in is the perfect way to do it,” she said.
“These are 6,000 people who lost their lives, and they deserve that this is being properly investigated. And I think this is the discussion that we should have all together,” she said.
In the same presser, Neumann said the following years are also a crucial time for the EU and the Philippines’ trade ties as Manila’s GSP+ inclusion is set to expire in December.
Neumann said there would be a two-year transition period where the Philippines could reapply.
“This gives basically the administration a timeframe of about two years to show the sincerity in the implementation and improving the human rights situation on the ground for us to properly assess and see how we proceed,” she said.
Neumann, meanwhile, did not answer categorically when asked if the release of former Senator Leila de Lima and the Philippines’ return to the ICC would carry weight in EU’s decision to renew the status.
“We are a delegation from the Human Rights Committee so we are surely not the only ones who make decisions about the future of the Philippines in the GSP+,” she said.
“[R]eleasing Senator Leila de Lima and dropping the bogus charges, as well as returning to the ICC would be of course a strong sign in which direction the country wants to move that is absolutely in line with what we expect from GSP+ partner countries,” she added.
Neumann was joined by other members of the EP (MEP) Ryszard Czarnecki, Isabel Wiseler-Lima, Karsten Lucke, and Miguel Urban Crespo.
From Feb. 22 to 24, the MEPs held meetings with the chairman and members, both from majority and minority, of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights and of the House Committee on Human Rights.
They also met with Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla and representatives of the Commission on Human Rights, United Nations Philippines, civil society organizations and trade union representatives. (PNA)