A delegation of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights visited Philippines on February 22-24, to discuss the latest developments in relation to the human rights situation following the election of President Marcos in May 2022. The Members 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 the Secretary of Trade and Investment, the Secretary of Justice, members of the Commission on Human Rights, United Nations representatives, civil society organisations, trade union representatives, and journalists.
The Members welcomed the new government’s commitment to engage on human rights with the international community, including UN mechanisms. They were encouraged by promising first steps and announcements in this regard, notably within the framework of the UN Universal Periodic Review. They noted favourably the President’s commitment to change the focus of the “war on drugs” away from a punitive approach towards prevention and rehabilitation, and welcomed the commitment not to reintroduce the death penalty. However, the delegation was made aware of continuing extrajudicial killings, and underscored the importance of investigating each such case and ensuring accountability of perpetrators. Members underlined that re-joining by the Philippines of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court – to which all member states of the EU are signatories – would reinforce the government’s stated commitment to fighting impunity.
The Members recalled the importance of a vibrant civil society and free media to make democracies work, and called on the authorities to ensure a safe and enabling space: free from threats, harassment and attacks. In this regard, they encouraged a swift adoption of an ambitious legislation on the protection of human rights defenders. Moreover, they expressed support for local calls for the decriminalisation of libel and cyber libel, as well as for the effective end of the practice of “red tagging” and abuse of the anti-terror legislation to tame critical voices.
The Members also visited former Senator De Lima in prison on the eve of the sixth anniversary of her arbitrary detention. They reiterated the Parliament’s call for her immediate and unconditional release and the dropping of all the remaining charges against her, and expressed the same request as concerns all other political prisoners.
Members took stock of the ongoing dialogue between the Philippines and the EU on the core human rights dimension of the country’s reapplication to the GSP+ preferential trade scheme. They recalled the importance of firm and actionable steps in relation to the implementation of the Philippines’ obligations under the relevant international human rights conventions and underlined that the EU provides and offers to provide further experience sharing and technical assistance towards this end. Members recalled that the government’s plans to ensure effective and fair delivery of justice would contribute to upholding the rule of law and attracting foreign investment, thus contributing to domestic ambitions of equitable and sustainable growth. They supported the ILO’s recommendation to establish a presidential commission to investigate extra-judicial killings of workers and ensure freedom of association.
Members discussed the rights of women and girls, including sexual and reproductive rights, and the specific situation of women human rights defenders. They also raised the issue of the rights of indigenous peoples, including in terms of access to land and conflict resolution efforts in Mindanao.
The delegation greatly valued the efforts of the government to improve the working conditions of its fellow citizens working overseas. It underlined the Parliament’s commitment to ensure safe working conditions inside the EU and to raise the matter in its on-going dialogue with countries in the Middle East.
“The Philippines and the EU have been, are and will be close partners. Both sides share a strong relationship based on people to people contacts, trade, and a joint commitment to adhere to international law – be it in Ukraine or the South Chinese Sea. We value this strong relationship and we appreciate the new government’s aspiration to see it growing – based on a common commitment to democracy and human rights. Tangible action in the areas of fighting impunity, protecting human rights defenders and implementing international labour standards will constitute a solid foundation for an even closer partnership as well as sustainable and equitable growth to the benefit of all.”