EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s July 31 to August 1, 2023, visit to Manila created great disappointment among human rights groups. Instead of addressing the lack of accountability for serious human rights violations – particularly in the so-called “war on drugs” under former President Rodrigo Duterte (2016-2022) and increasing repression against human rights defenders – Von der Leyen praised the alleged “great improvements” regarding the human rights situation in the Philippines. She announced the resumption of free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations between the EU and the Philippines and also stressed that trade benefits under the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) will also be automatically extended for the Philippines until 2027.
FTA negotiations were on hold during the administration of former President Duterte. The Philippines’ controversial GSP+ reapplication has also now been postponed due to the failed EU-Trialogue negotiations regarding the reformed, new GSP+ cycle.
Philippe Dam, EU director of Human Rights Watch, strongly criticized Von der Leyen’s performance during her Manila- in Manila: “An EU official should speak about human rights concerns and issues when they speak publicly on the side of other heads of state. This is the minimum that we can do, to expect that EU uses its leverage.”
The messages the EU Commission President delivered in Manila also seemed contradictory to the critical statements made by the EU Parliamentarians from the Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) and the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore, during their meetings with the Philippine government in early 2023.
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