After European Union (EU) officials warned against the loss of the country’s preferential trade perks with the bloc, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez urged critics to see past the international media’s coverage of the Duterte administration’s “war on drugs” and look at the “real numbers” instead.
On Monday, EU parliamentarians belonging to one of the oldest political groups in the European Parliament warned that there would be “consequences” to the Generalized System of Preference Plus (GSP+) as thousands lay dead in the government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign while the opposition faces political persecution.
German parliamentarian Arne Lietz, who belongs to the Progressive Alliance and the Party of European Socialists, said that there may be consequences to the trade perks “if the human rights standards are not upheld.”
The GSP+ allows zero tariffs on more than 6,000 Philippine products that are exported to the EU. This perk, which only a few countries enjoy and the Philippines being the only Asean nation to benefit from it, is given on condition that the beneficiary state adheres to certain international conventions, including one concerning human rights.
In defence, Mr. Lopez blamed the international media for focusing on “isolated cases of abuses” which even President Duterte did not tolerate.
“Don’t rely on international media reports. Look at the real numbers,” he said in a viber message to reporters.
Lopez, who had recently gone to EU to explain the side of the Philippine government, said that there are over “108,000 peaceful arrests,” but noted that these “never got into the news.”
“Once again we reiterate that the Philippine government protects human rights and the police follow rules of engagement. There may be isolated cases of abuses and President Duterte does not tolerate those. That’s why there are now investigations,” he said.
“Unfortunately these incidents are the ones carried heavily in media and thus projected too much abroad,” he added.
The parliamentarians were part of an international mission that went on a two-day visit in parts of Metro Manila mostly affected by the anti-illegal drugs campaign, meeting with lawmakers and human rights advocates in the process, media reports showed.
This comes as non-commissioned surveys have been reporting a decline in the support for the war on drugs, a bloody campaign that has drew criticisms both here and abroad for the thousands that died, including those under official police operations.
The trade chief said that poor people accounted for most of the arrests and the deaths during the operations “because there are simply many [people] in the low-income bracket in [terms of] absolute numbers in a pyramidal population structure.”
He said the news coverage on how the drug war mostly impacts the poor “affected the recent surveys.”
Since being granted with the status in December 2014, the utilization rate of the perk has been increasing on a yearly basis, albeit only in a small scale. According to data from DTI, utilization rate in 2015 has been 68.3 percent, which rose to 70.87 percent last year.
Moreover, according to Eurostat data, the statistical office of the EU bloc, the Philippines exported 1.7 billion euros worth of products under the GSP+ scheme last year, a nearly a 10-percent increase from 2015. /kga
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