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Palace won’t back down from EU

MJ Blancaflor



Malacañang dared on Friday the European Union’s lawmaking body to revoke tariff privileges given to local goods as a supposed penalty for what EU legislators termed as deteriorating rights situation in the country.

Filipinos are ready to suffer another blow on the economy since it has already hit “rock bottom,” according to Presidential spokesman Harry Roque.

European lawmakers had sought to revoke the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) — which provides duty-free entry of 6,200 local products to EU — over alleged human rights violations in the country.

In a news briefing, an incensed Roque dared the EU to push through with its economic sanctions even as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic which plunged the economy into a recession which was the worst in three decades.

“If they want to add to the burden of the Filipino nation during this pandemic, so be it. We will accept that as history repeating itself. Let’s stop these discussions,” Roque said.

In a resolution dated 17 September, the legislative assembly called on the European Commission to initiate the procedure that could lead to the temporary withdrawal of GSP+ advantages if Philippine authorities fail to explain alleged breaches on rights and press freedom.

The body also expressed concern over the “deteriorating” level of press freedom in the Philippines and condemned harassment and violence against journalists, citing the case of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa who was convicted of cyberlibel.

“All politically motivated charges against her and her colleagues should be dropped,” according to the resolution.

300-year conditioning
“They can do what they want at these times, if they want to implement it, go ahead,” he added.

An obviously exasperated Roque, said such a move would make the EU look to the world as “an entity which worsened the suffering of the Philippines.”

The Palace official added Filipinos would accept the situation as history repeating itself, noting that the Philippines had suffered from the 300-year colonization of Spain, a member of the European Union.

“I’m sorry I’m being very undiplomatic in my answer but what else can I say? At the time of pandemic, they are threatening us. Susmaryosep. What else can we lose?” Roque said.

“We have hit the rock bottom by way of our economy because of COVID-19. If they want additional burdens to Filipinos and it will make them happy, go ahead,” he added.

Roque also claimed there is nothing the Philippines can do to prevent the suspension of tariff perks.

Last year, about P113 billion worth of Philippine goods entered the EU under the zero-tariff GSP+ mechanism.

The EU is the Philippines’ fourth largest trading partner, accounting for almost nine percent of the country’s total trade.

Without good reason
Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez said the Philippines has done its part in coordinating with the EU Commission regarding the efforts of the country to uphold basic rights.

“We have an Inter-agency working group in place that attend to the regular monitoring visits and respond accordingly to various issues if and when they are officially raised by the EU Commission,” Lopez said in a statement.

“So far, we are able to explain objectively the Philippines side on issues that are raised and we don’t see any reason why our GSP+ privilege will be withdrawn,” Lopez asserted.

The DTI chief noted the GSP+ rating of the EU is “precisely helping address poverty and attendant social and economic issues, and helping Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) in many parts of the country, by allowing greater EU market access for Philippine products.”

Lopez explained that the EU Commission has a mechanism in place and process to follow to verify issues before sanctions are imposed, seemingly hoping that the EU Commission will give consideration to its sanction.

Misinformation tool
Roque denied accusations of human rights violations and attacks on press freedom, claiming that what happens to EU is a “classic case of misinformation” on the situation in the Philippines.

“This is a classic case of misinformation. Unfortunately, the enemies of the Philippines, including the CPP-NPA, have a strong influence on Europe,” said Roque, who also pointed out that communist leader Joma Sison is in self-exile in the Netherlands.

Roque also called on Philippine ambassadors in European countries, as well as lawmakers, to inform their counterparts on what has been happening in the country.

“I know you have a lot in your plate but it’s important that you also prioritize spreading the truth that democracy in the country is very much alive,” he noted.

with Raffy Ayeng