Government balks at European Union rights standard

Published by rudy Date posted on February 12, 2009

MANILA, Philippines – Political concerns, particularly the country’s standard on human rights which is different from the European Union’s, will be a contentious issue in the draft of the proposed Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with the EU, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said yesterday.

While the Philippines and the EU both agreed on upholding human rights, DFA Undersecretary for International Economic Affairs Edsel Custodio said the European Commission has a higher standard but it should realize that the Philippine situation is entirely different.

“In the end there are political issues that might delay the process, like human rights. It’s more difficult to address the issue of human rights than economics,” Custodio said, without elaborating on the difference in standard of human rights.

The Philippines has also failed to act on the ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the prosecution of individuals who committed serious crimes against the international community despite calls from countries that had ratified the treaty, including Japan.

The Japanese government has renewed calls for the Philippines to ratify the Rome Statute after Japan acceded to the ICC and deposited in July 2007 its instrument of accession with the United Nations.

“That’s the area (where) we’ll not have smooth sailing. This will influence the flow of negotiations. We’re in the same direction although our emphasis will differ in the end,” Custodio added.

In a statement, the DFA and the EU said they have made significant progress on a proposed PCA during their two-day initial talks that started on Monday.

Both sides acknowledged that current global realities demand greater dialogue and cooperation.

The statement said the current economic crisis and its impact on development, as well as other concerns affecting both RP and EU, have given a renewed urgency for the two parties to pursue joint action.

Both sides shared the view that the proposed PCA would provide a new framework which would deepen existing relations and open new avenues for collaboration. 

During the two-day meeting, a thematic review of the draft PCA was undertaken.

To facilitate negotiations on a key issue of shared concern, both sides agreed to hold seminars on migration and taxation that would bring together RP-EU experts for comprehensive consultations.

Both sides also agreed to support multi-stakeholder consultations on the PCA.   

The two parties expect to pursue a second round of negotiations in July after each side has updated their respective drafts.

The first round of talks stemmed from the October 2008 decision of President Arroyo and EC President Jose Manuel Barroso to start negotiations on the PCA.

Good governance is key’

For his part, James Moran, Director for Asia of the EC in Brussels and head of the EU negotiating panel, said they will help the Philippines not only on trade and investments but also provide support on the aspect of good governance.

“Good governance is a theme throughout the agreement. We’re looking to a number of different aspects where we might be able to support the notion of good governance, but you have to tie this down in specifics as to where it is needed most,” Moran said.

Custodio, for his part, said the Philippines is bent on entering PCA because it will also entice donor countries to put in resources for official development assistance (ODA).

But he declined to comment on the perception of the Philippines’ implementation of foreign-funded projects and the detailed World Bank report on the extent of corruption in government.

A diplomat from a major donor country disclosed on Monday that assistance to the country is likely to suffer a big reduction because corruption in government is deeply “entrenched” and the WB report is “worrying” them.

The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said his government is closely following the WB report and the investigation into the anomalous road projects funded by the foreign financial institution and the extent of government corruption that identified First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo as the patron of colluding contractors in a $33-million road project in 2003.

The diplomat admitted that their government will review their assistance to the Philippines and a significant reduction is seen.

The diplomat urged the media to use its influence to bring out the truth and expose corruption in government that “should lead to prosecution, whoever the people involved are.” –Pia Lee-Brago, Philippine Star

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