EU sanctions on the Philippines will cut 200,000 jobs, labour group warns

One of the Philippines’ largest labour federations on Saturday warned the government that as many as 200,000 Filipinos could lose their jobs if the EU were to withdraw the trade privileges it had granted to the country due to perceived human rights violations by the Duterte administration.

Europe’s parliamentarians on Thursday voted overwhelmingly 626 to seven, with 52 abstentions, to adopt a resolution to withdraw the Philippines’ trade benefits under the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) if the government did not abide by international conventions on human rights.

It was the third time since 2016 that the European Parliament has made the threat in the wake of extrajudicial killings linked to President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs in addition to deadly attacks on social activists, continuing corruption and threats against press freedom.

“We urge the government to take the right action and take more steps in addressing the issues raised by the resolution,” said Gerard Seno, national executive vice-president of Associated Labor Unions (ALU), a 66-year-old labour federation which counts in its ranks more than 200,000 unionised workers in the manufacturing, services and agriculture sectors and sea-based Filipinos.

Seno said if “the Philippine government fails to make the right response to the resolution, we will lose the [European] market, which [will] result [in] more unemployment and loss of business opportunities”.

Citing figures from the Department of Trade and Industry, Seno said that since the GSP+ privilege was granted in 2014 Philippine exports to the 27-nation EU have increased by 35 per cent and created 200,000 more jobs.

He said: “If the revocation of the GSP+ privilege is completed, we will lose these jobs.”

No tariff is imposed on the more than 6,000 products exported to the EU from the Philippines under the GSP+ trading privilege. Among these products are pineapples, mangoes, tuna, footwear and coffee.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua last week said 8.8 million jobs were lost between January and April due to the “very strict quarantine” imposed to control the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chua said the unemployment rate next year could range between six per cent and eight per cent. The latest unemployment rate in July “improved” to 10 per cent from 17.7 per cent recorded in April, he said.

Aside from trade sanctions, the European Parliament’s resolution also called on the EU members to support a proposal to establish an “independent, international investigation” of human rights violations in the Philippines.

It said there were also threats, harassment, intimidation, rape and violence against those exposing extrajudicial killings; killings of human rights workers; and “deteriorating” press freedom in the country, citing the case of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, who was convicted of cyber libel, and the shutdown of broadcast giant ABS-CBN.

The European parliamentarian’s vote drew an angry reaction from presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, who dared them to “go ahead” and impose the sanction.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano also took offence at the resolution, calling it an “outright interference . . . in the purely domestic matters of the Philippines”.

“To our friends in the European Parliament, we have a saying here in the Philippines that the world is round,” he said. “The day will come – and etch this in stone – that the Philippines will be in a position to impose economic sanctions on your countries.”

De Lima on Saturday said that by his administration’s reaction to the European Parliament’s resolution, Duterte “would rather continue killing Filipinos than keep the trade benefits” from the EU.

“Duterte calls it defending Philippine independence and sovereignty,” she said in a statement. “What he is not saying is that no government in the modern world can still claim to have the independence and sovereignty to summarily execute its own citizens.”

CPP chief information officer Marco Valbuena in a statement said: “He is now among the ranks of Hitler, Mussolini, Marcos, Suharto, Idi Amin, Lukashenko, Park Chung-hee and other detested dictators who butchered their people and plundered their nation.”

He said Roque’s claim that the CPP influenced more than 600 European parliamentarians to vote for the resolution was “the height of this regime’s paranoia”.

Valbuena said: “False it might be but thank you for the unwitting compliment.”