Days ago, the parliament of the European Union (EU) threatened to revoke the trade perks and tariff privileges it has been extending to the Philippines for the past years. The threat came in the wake of reports the EU received from anti-government elements in the Philippines about alleged human rights violations in the country.
According to the EU Parliament, the Philippine government should improve the human rights situation in the country or face economic sanctions such as tariff adjustments designed to disable Philippine industries.
That threat from the EU Parliament is rooted on the faulty premise that the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte actually tolerates human rights violations in the Philippines.
The human rights situation in the Philippines is far from perfect, but then, even the United States, the bastion of human rights in the world, has its share of human rights problems. According to the international news media, racism is robust in America today, something the EU Parliament seems to ignore.
In assessing the human rights situation in a given country, it is not enough to focus on the existence of violations. What must also be considered are how its government addresses the problem, and if systems are in place to check abuses.
Take the problem of illegal drugs in the Philippines. Critics of the administration claim that many innocent people have been killed in the government’s war against the drug menace.
The critics, however, conveniently overlooked that because past administrations allowed the drug problem to proliferate over the decades, the drug menace became so extensive that only a strongman approach to it can stop it.
In other words, had it not been for the iron-handed approach President Duterte took against the drug menace, taxpaying citizens would not have found out that many government officials identified with past administrations, like Quezon City Councilor Hero Bautista, for instance, were drug users all along.
That same iron-handed approach led to criminal charges being filed against ex-Justice secretary Leila de Lima for her alleged role in allowing drug lords in the national penitentiary to operate with impunity from inside its walls. De Lima’s continued detention has been upheld by the Supreme Court (SC).
Like all wars, the anti-drug war waged by the Philippine government will have casualties. Thus, the question to ask is, who should be criticized — the current leadership fighting the drug syndicates, or the past administrations that allowed the drug menace to grow unabated through the decades?
If free speech and press freedom are inexistent in the Philippines today, all privately-owned media would have already been shuttered and reopened under government control. From the time Duterte assumed office in 2016 up to the present, the news media remain at liberty to criticize the government and to publicize the views of critics of the administration.
The ABS-CBN broadcasting giant was not shuttered by the government. It discontinued broadcasts because its last legislative franchise expired and Congress did not renew it because of violations of law cited in the congressional record, particularly the network’s illegal use of the franchise of another broadcast facility.
Rappler queen bee Maria Ressa is currently facing libel and tax evasion charges, but the operations of her online news forum continue unrestricted to this day.
Elections take place as scheduled, and the political opposition have representatives in both houses of Congress. Their voices are heard in the legislature and disseminated by the news media.
There is even a Commission on Human Rights, which never misses any opportunity to criticize the administration.
The SC and lower courts are open and functioning. Laws enacted by Congress and the acts of the President and his Cabinet have been challenged in the SC on many occasions. Court rulings are obeyed by the Executive and Legislative branches of the national government.
Someone ought to tell the EU parliament that its act of threatening the Philippines with economic sanctions, without valid grounds for doing so, and at a time when Filipinos are facing serious economic and health problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, is in itself a violation of human rights.