human rights in the Philippines

EU human rights rep vows to continue fighting for accountability on EJKs

Jairo Bolledo

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EU human rights rep vows to continue fighting for accountability on EJKs

SUPPORT. Families and relatives of victims of extra judicial killings participate and perform in a theater play at Norte Dame of Greater Manila in Caloocan City on March 30, 2023.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) The European Union special representative for human rights says the European Commission has been monitoring the country's human rights performance

MANILA, Philippines – The European Union’s (EU) special representative for human rights vowed accountability for extrajudicial killings (EJK) during his visit with the families of drug war victims on Thursday, March 30.

“I want to express my personal sympathy to you, first of all, for that lost and say to you that the European Union will continue to strive to bring about accountability for those killings,” the EU’s Eamon Gilmore told the families.

On Thursday, Gilmore led the EU delegation that visited the EJK families under the AJ Kalinga Foundation led by Fr. Flavie Villanueva. The European officials also had a private meeting with the families.

When asked if the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) would be used to push for accountability in the war on drugs, where thousands were killed, Gilmore reiterated that the tariff privileges is conditional on the Philippines’ part. He added that the European Commission has been thoroughly monitoring the country’s human rights performance.

The European Commission website says it is “the EU’s politically independent executive arm. It is alone responsible for drawing up proposals for new European legislation, and it implements the decisions of the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.”

By the end of the year, the country’s EU tariff perks will expire and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration would have to negotiate with the European states for its renewal. The Philippine government would need to meet the conditions that will be set by the EU. It’s a challenge for the current administration because under Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines and EU’s relationship turned sour due to human rights issues.

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If the GSP+ perks would be renewed, among the privileges the Philippines can still enjoy are duty-free entry for 6,200 local products, which include fruits, animals, and vegetable fat, textiles, and even metals.

On the Marcos administration’s programs to address human rights concerns, Gilmore said it is “early” to assess the programs. But, Gilmore also noted the current administration is more open in engaging with international bodies like the United Nations and the EU, but added that the issue of accountability should be addressed.

Reminder of bloody drug war

Led by the AJ Kalinga Foundation, some families of EJK victims performed in a play with the theme, “Kamulatan: Kalinga at Paghilom sa Bagong Ngayon.” The play depicted the plight and struggles of families who lost their loved ones. 

Twenty-five widows and orphans sought healing and justice through theater arts and expressed themselves through the performance. 

The play was staged at the Notre Dame of Greater Manila in Caloocan City, with the EU delegation led by Gilmore in attendance.

Iba ang mundo ng teatro (The world of theater is different). Theater is a healing exercise. It is a platform for honest and truthful narratives,” stage director Albert Sandejano of Project PagHILOM said. 

This 12th and latest “teatro” showcase of Project PagHILOM took only two days of preparations, according to Sandejano. He explained this was mostly because, unlike in usual plays where actors have to rehearse emotions, their cast relied on honest emotions and stories of their very own. 

EJK widows crying for justice provided emotional testimonies. The play’s director said this part was not included in any of their rehearsals, “out of respect” for the widows. 

“‘Di po namin na-rehearse ‘yong sharing, naiiyak [sila] eh. Kaya ‘yong sharing na nangyari, ngayon ko lang narinig.” headded. (We never rehearsed the sharing because [the widows] become tearful. The sharing done earlier in the play was my first time ever to hear it.)

In the end, the EJK families held photos of their loved ones and lit candles dedicated to them.

The audience was then asked for some reflections after the play. 

Gilmore said: “I don’t think I have ever been moved more by the testimonies I’ve heard this morning. I was struck by a sense of optimism, hope, and hunger for justice.”

Gilmore added that because he is the son of a widow, he knows firsthand what it is like “to have an empty seat at the table.” – With reports from Francine Maria Allison Co/ Rappler.com

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.