Minority senators weigh in on EU lawmakers’ call

By Charmaine A. Tadalan, Reporter
and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

A call by European lawmakers for the Philippines to release a senator critical of the government shows her detention is baseless and politically motivated, according to opposition senators.

“We stand with the European Parliament in urging the government to free Senator Leila M. de Lima,” the Senate minority bloc said in a statement on Sunday. They also urged President Rodrigo R. Duterte to stop extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses.

The EU parliament adopted a resolution on Sept. 17 calling on the Philippines to comply with the recommendations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, citing “widespread and systemic” killings linked to Mr. Duterte’s deadly war on drugs.

Six hundred twenty-six European lawmakers approved the resolution. Seven disagreed and 52 abstained.

“The resolution should also remind the current administration that the international community will not turn a blind eye and do nothing toward the government’s attacks against the fundamental freedoms of Filipinos,” the senators said.

They said the country’s human rights situation had worsened since Mr. Duterte came to power four years ago.

Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon and Senators Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel and Francis N. Pangilinan signed Sunday’s statement.

The European Parliament resolution also raised concerns about threats to press freedom after Philippine congressmen rejected the franchise of ABS-CBN Corp. which is critical of the Mr. Duterte. They also cited the conviction of Maria A. Ressa, chief executive officer of news website Rappler, which has also criticized the government.

The parliament also called on the European Commission to revoke tax perks enjoyed by Philippine products in the region due to the worsening human rights situation.

The European Parliament resolution is considered to be a form of “economic blackmail,” said Marlon M. Villarin, a political science professor from the University of the Philippines.

“The Duterte Administration will remain strong in its conviction, believing that this EU resolution is more violative of Filipino human rights,” he said in a mobile phone message. He said revoking the tax perks would punish Filipinos just because the government chose to exercise sovereignty.

The resolution was untimely because the world is fighting a global coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Villarin said. The government would probably find a common ground with the EU, he added.

Meanwhile, Albay Rep. Edcel C. Lagman said the EU lawmakers’ call for an independent probe of the drug killings was justified.

“The Commission on Human Rights has no prosecutory powers, while the Department of Justice iis a virtual adjunct of the presidency even as the courts have failed to resolve pending human rights cases, except for a very few,” he said in a statement on Sunday.

“It is self-serving to bar an independent United Nations investigation, through the UN Human Rights Council, on the country’s worsening state of human rights on the pretext of sovereign immunity when the Philippines is a state party to many human rights conventions obligating signatories to promote and protect human rights,” he added.

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