The first ever Sub-Committee on Good Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights under the new European Union – Philippines Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) met on 5 February 2021 via videoconference.
The launch of the Sub-Committee allows the Philippines and the European Union (EU) to reinforce their engagement on good governance, the rule of law and human rights. The respect of human rights as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and relevant international human rights instruments, to which the EU and its Members States and the Philippines are parties, is an essential element of the PCA. The Sub-committee is the formal structure to share views and concerns on those issues. Both the EU and the Philippines reaffirmed their commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, while recognising the need for further action on a number of human rights issues.
The EU welcomed the Joint Programme between the Philippines and the United Nations following the adoption by consensus of Resolution 45/33 at the last session of the Human Rights Council and the Philippines Government’s commitment to its operationalisation. The EU encouraged the Philippines to continue its constructive engagement and address the issues raised in the report of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council. The EU looked forward to tangible progress on human rights and stands ready to support the implementation of the Joint Programme and its objectives, notably through the GO JUST II programme.
Strengthening accountability and investigative measures was a key topic discussed, in particular in the context of the Anti-Illegal Drug Campaign, as well as the issue of the death penalty, which the EU opposes in all circumstances. Referring to the UN High Commissioner’s report, the EU called on the Philippines to address extra-judicial killings, provide remedies for victims and hold perpetrators accountable. The Philippines stated that its domestic accountability mechanisms are functioning. Nevertheless, efforts are being made to further strengthen national institutions and procedures in order to advance the fight against impunity. For example, the Review Panel on cases related to the anti-illegal drug campaign had begun its important work. The EU looked forward to tangible progress in this connection. Senator Leila de Lima’s case was also discussed. The EU explained its new Rule of Law Mechanism addressing the rule of law situation in the EU.
Freedom of opinion and expression, media and information were discussed at length including the cases of journalists and media workers such as Maria Ressa. Both the EU and the Philippines recognised their obligations to take action to respect, protect and promote these freedoms.
Acknowledging that freedom of association and assembly and an enabling civic space are crucial components of any democracy and key building blocks for the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda, the EU and the Philippines agreed on the need to acknowledge, protect human rights defenders and enable their work in accordance with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
The Sub-Committee highlighted that migration is a global phenomenon that requires global solutions and global sharing of responsibility. Noting that women and girls constitute the vast majority of the victims, the EU and the Philippines expressed their joint commitment to fight against human trafficking and their readiness to strengthen cooperation in that field. Participants noted the achievements of the Philippines in the protection of the human rights of the overseas Filipino workers and the efforts in the fight against human trafficking. The Philippines raised the issue of social dumping and the protection of the rights of third country au pairs in the EU. The EU and the Philippines recalled their engagement to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The situations of racism and xenophobia in the EU and of Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines were discussed. The Sub-Committee allowed for an open and constructive exchange on good governance, rule of law and human rights issues. The monitoring mission under the EU’s unilateral trade preferences scheme, GSP+, scheduled for later this year, will also be a good occasion to assess progress, building on the results of this first Sub-Committee, and will provide an additional platform for continued engagement on human rights and labour rights issues between the EU and the Philippines.
The EU and the Philippines looked forward to the strengthening of the EU-ASEAN relations, including in the area of human rights, under the forthcoming coordination role of the Philippines. This is especially important since the elevation of EU-ASEAN relations to a Strategic Partnership at the EU-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in December 2020.
The next Sub-Committee meeting is expected to take place in the Philippines during the first semester of 2022.
The meeting was opened by Mr Eamon Gilmore, the EU Special Representative for Human Rights and co-chaired by Ms Paola Pampaloni, Deputy Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific in the European External Action Service and Mr Jaime Victor B. Ledda, Assistant Secretary of the Office of European Affairs in the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines.