President Duterte’s latest threat to declare martial law in Mindanao has sparked further concerns in the European Union, this amid strong signals that his war on drugs and other anticrime measures that his administration is doggedly pushing for, like the death penalty, could have an adverse effect on EU-Philippine trade relations.
Last March 9 in Davao City, speaking to about 300 local officials from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and central and northern Mindanao, Mr. Duterte raised the specter of martial law again, directing them to work with the police and help him fight terrorism and other forms of violence so that he would not have to resort to extraordinary measures to bring law and order in Mindanao.
Only local officials could prevent violence from spinning out, he said, adding that they had the police under their supervision and the military could be called out to help if necessary.
For the first time last week, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom spoke on the issues, joining a number of international organizations that have denounced the bloody drug war and the reinstatement of the death penalty. “We are concerned about some of the issues here in the Philippines.
That means, the death penalty, the extrajudicial killings, the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility to nine years old,” she told reporters at a press conference on March 10, and went on to emphasize that these are some of the concerns “we have conveyed to our partners here in the Philippines.”
The top EU trade official did not make conclusive statements as to how the recent developments would affect the bloc’s economic ties with Manila, but she noted these are all “under discussion.”
According to international press agency reports, she made mention of the Generalized System of Preferences Plus (GSP+), which allows zero tariff for over 6,000 Philippine products that are exported to the EU. “We have now an agreement between us, called GDP Plus, which opens up good trade possibilities, but is also subject to certain international conventions. So the European Parliament and member-states in the EU have some concerns about this development,” she said.
She was referring to the passage of the death penalty bill earlier in the House of Representatives, which has triggered concerns among critics that it would violate international agreements, which would eventually affect GSP+.
In 2006, during the Arroyo administration, Congress passed a law that abolished the death penalty. This stand against capital punishment was carried over to the United Nations in 2007, when Manila ratified the Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
International law experts say that ratifying the protocol binds parties to their commitment against restoring the death penalty. They say that since there is no opt-out mechanism in the agreement, reimposing the death penalty (as backed by the Duterte administration) will mean breaching the covenant.
The economic benefit, it was further pointed, is conditional—dependent on the Duterte administration’s compliance with key international covenants, including their protocols. This puts the government in a bind.
As international diplomatic pressure mounted on the government to respect UN protocols in its brutal war on drugs, the French ambassador to Manila, Thierry Mathou, said he was hoping the death penalty will not be restored. He told the Inquirer that he has spoken to some legislators about the death penalty bill. “France has been advocating the abolition of the death penalty everywhere in the world… even in the US,” he said at the sidelines of the ceremonies marking the 70th year of Philippine-France diplomatic relations.
Amando Doronila was a regular columnist of the Inquirer from 1994 to May 2016.