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The EU and human rights

/ 05:18 AM October 26, 2017

In an increasingly interconnected world, vast currents of trade, capital, information and people flow ceaselessly across countries and regions, virtually unhampered by geography or  borders. Underlying these currents are legal and ethical norms so fundamental in governing a globalized world, a world struggling to reduce enmity and discord while fostering stability and prosperity.

It is in this context that Philippine policymakers should view the United Nations and European Union’s anxiety over and interest in the murderous war on drugs raging in our midst. When the UN and EU express their concerns, as they are obliged to do, they are not meddling in the Philippines’ internal affairs. They are acting on principles and executing policies that bear the imprimatur and consent of the Philippine government and the international community.

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The Philippines, after all, is a signatory not only to the UN Charter but also to the UN Human Rights Council and its predecessor. We have a partnership and cooperation agreement with the EU, signed in 2012, that provides for engagement and cooperation on a broad range of areas, including human rights and justice.

Under these legal frameworks, it is difficult to see how Philippine sovereignty is being violated. In any case, sovereignty cannot be a lid to cover the excesses of state power or the atrocities committed by public officials.

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For these reasons, the recent political rant against the EU diminishes us, to say the least. The EU, for many years, has been the Philippines’ second largest source of remittances from Filipinos abroad and the largest provider of foreign direct investments. In the first half of this year alone, almost a third of all newly approved investments in the country were sourced from Europe. Philippine goods to the continent made the EU the second largest market for Filipino exporters. And since 2014, the EU has extended enhanced trade preferences to our country under its Generalized Scheme of Preferences plus (GSP+).

But while commerce and economics underpin our bilateral relations, it is the powerful elements of shared ideals and core values that ultimately bind us: peace, the rule of law, freedom, tolerance, and the sanctity of human life.

This is why the EU repeatedly calls for the need to address more systematically the issue of impunity, and to bring the perpetrators of gross human rights violations to justice. This is why it is funding projects that focus on the protection of Filipinos’ economic, social and cultural rights, as well as on social development and good governance.

Europe’s postmodern ideals have been forged by its violent past. For centuries the continent was a cauldron of conflicts and warring states, even before the rise of the Roman Empire down to the cataclysms of two world wars. Contemplating this tragic past, the visionary Jean Monnet and the architects of today’s European common market believed that long-term peace and prosperity would only be possible if, among others, there was a vigorous and intense commitment to human rights.

It is true that the Europeans’ high-minded virtues sometimes reek with hypocrisy, given the continent’s  imperial heritage and its problematical responses to unprecedented waves of migrants fleeing from oppression, poverty and the havoc of  the less developed world. But these virtues, too, derived from a sordid past where, as Eric Hoffer lamented, “the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, and the single-handed defiance of the world” often prevailed.

Considering our governance deficiencies, perhaps we should aspire to assimilate the qualities of the European Union’s mainstream political culture. It emphasizes negotiation, diplomacy and commercial linkages. It rejects the use of force or the threat of force, relying instead on self-imposed rules of behavior. It believes in compromise rather than confrontation.

Today the most powerful principle that Europeans are striving to establish is that all nations, strong or weak, are equal under the law. In this sense, what the EU offers the world is not power “but the transcendence of power.”

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Rex D. Lores ([email protected]) is a member of the Philippine Futuristics Society.

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