Despite some tense moments, Philippine senators and visiting European Parliament members on Wednesday had a “constructive and fruitful” discussion on various human rights issues, especially the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigation into former President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.
Senator Francis Tolentino and Hannah Neumann, the head of the European Union delegation, shared this in a press conference after the dialogue between the members of the Senate Justice and Human Rights Committee and the EU Parliament members.
Both sides agreed to move forward and do more engagements that local lawmakers hoped would “eventually lead to a richer economic partnership” between the country and Europe.
“As you are all aware, the EU has been quite worried about the war on drugs and the extrajudicial killings happening in the past. We werediscussing this, and we are also very relieved to hear that right now the Philippines is working more towards rehabilitation and prevention,” Neumann said.
“We have also discussed other issues of human rights and I think it has been a fruitful and constructive meeting that makes me believe that we are moving towards a more constructive engagement for the future,” she added.
During the closed meeting, Tolentino said senators were able tomaintain that ICC has no jurisdiction over the Philippines and explained the country’s side on the issue of extrajudicial killingsduring the past administration, as well as the resolutions filed in Congress defending Duterte from ICC prosecution.
Tolentino also downplayed the “bickering” between fellow Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa – the national police chief during Duterte’s regime—and a Spanish parliamentarian.
He said the Spaniard’s voice was just loud because he was talking through an interpreter, as he does not know the English language.
The dialogue, also attended by EU Ambassador to the Philippines Luc Véron, was fruitful, said Tolentino, who chairs the Senate justice panel.
“We discussed a lot of issues concerning the entire universe of human rights issues. Moving forward, we look at revitalizing our gaps. We answered some of their concerns as well,” he said.
Neumann stressed that relations between the EU and the Philippines have always been very close.
“We receive many Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) crucial to make ourhealth system, construction (industries work),” she said, likewise citing the strong trade relations between the Philippines and EU countries.
Tolentino insisted to the EU parliamentarians that the Philippines is no longer a member of the ICC, and “we made them understand that our Senate and the House of Representatives are addressing all the concerns of the human rights violations, including the EJKs, and they (victims’ families) are all properly compensated.”
“If there were abuses, the victims were compensated, so we have (forexample) the compensation for the Marawi siege which is undergoing hearings,” he said.
Tolentino also raised the issue of abuses committed on 83 Filipino victims of human trafficking, in using third parties to hire drivers and OFWs in Europe and abusing the rights of Pinoy seafarers.
“They should respect us in the same manner we respect them. That’s the principle of reciprocity,” he said. “They respect our views. But as to whether they will accept that as their own perspective, that’s a different matter.”
Meanwhile, Dela Rosa was visibly agitated in trading barbs with the Spanish lawmaker, who according to him used a “high tone.”
“There was one European Union (EU) member from Spain who flared on why
Sen. (Jinggoy) Estrada sponsored… authored a resolution protecting our President Duterte from ICC investigation,” related Dela Rosa. (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
The senator said he reminded the “honorable Spaniard” that Spain had “conquered, enslaved” the country for more than 300 years, “and now
that we have gained our freedom, we have our own sovereignty as a
nation, we hope other countries would respect our sovereignty as a
Dela Rosa, along with the former President, are among the respondents in the ICC probe, which President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has vowed the country would not participate in.
Sen. Robin Padilla, who filed the first Senate resolution defending Duterte from the ICC, told the EU parliamentarians that “before putting their fingers and mouth here and nose, I think you have to think about the Ukrainian crisis first, don’t bark on our tree, you have your own tree.”
Tolentino expressed hope that the fruitful dialogue would eventually lead to a richer economic partnership.
“We’ve discussed a lot of issues concerning the entire universe of human rights issues. Moving forward, we look at the revitalization, extension of the GSP (Generalized Scheme of Preferences) Plus Agreement, which will expire on Dec. 31 of this year,” he said.
The GSP Plus is structured as an incentive arrangement that grants the Philippines zero tariffs on 6,274 products or 66 percent of all EU tariff lines in exchange for complying with 27 international conventions on labor, human rights, governance, and the environment.
The Philippines has been the only ASEAN country to benefit from the EU-GSP Plus since 2014.
The EP-DROI delegation, led by six members of the European Parliament, will be in Manila until Feb. 24 after the Philippines accepted its request.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the EP DROI visits several countries yearly as part of its core duties.
Neumann was joined by Miguel Urban Crespo, Karsten Lucke, Isabel Wiseler-Lima, and Ryszard Czarnecki.
Neumann said the EU Parliament members are also set to visit former Senator Leila de Lima at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros had a separate meeting with the EU Parliament members. She said the EU MPs initiated the meeting with her.
According to Hontiveros, they resumed the discussions on impunity, extra-judicial killings, freedom of the press, disinformation, and the ICC probe.
Hontiveros said she brought up the case of Caloocan teenager Kian delos Santos during the meeting, emphasizing that the latter’s story “mirrors the realities of our human rights situation here.
“The conviction of perpetrators, especially state agents, in the case of Kian delos Santos’ murder, are a few signs of hope. But they are very few. The slow crawl to justice proves that the perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity,” she said in a statement.
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