EU group to visit PH next week as bid to mend ties continues

Tarra Quismundo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 12 2017 05:59 PM | Updated as of Jul 12 2017 10:00 PM

MANILA- A delegation of parliamentarians from the European Union (EU) is set to arrive in Manila next week to meet with top Philippine officials, as the two sides continued to revive their engagement following recent tense exchanges over the Philippines’ anti-drug campaign. 

Former Senate President Edgardo Angara, the Philippines’ special envoy to the EU, told ABS-CBN News that a group of European Parliament members is set to arrive on Monday.

The delegation will then meet with Angara and Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez early the next day for wide-ranging discussions expected to touch on bilateral trade and human rights. 

"Philippine-EU relations are valuable and beneficial to both sides. Historically and culturally, we have a longstanding relationship with some of their key members. Trade and investments two-way are vigorous. We may currently have issues concerning both, but they are solvable given mutual goodwill," said Angara.

The Philippines and the EU are currently negotiating a free trade agreement. The European bloc is among the country's largest trading partners, with total bilateral trade as of the first quarter of this year at 3.5 billion euros or P203 billion, per data from the Philippine Statistics Authority.

Last year, total trade between the two sides was at 12.8 billion euros or P742.3 billion, with the EU ranked as the Philippines' fourth largest trading partner, according to the European Commission.

“We want to emphasize that we want to be friends. We have a long tradition of friendship with England, Germany, France, Spain… We are grateful to the EU for giving us preferential trade for our fisheries,” the special envoy said in an interview. 

The EU Delegation in Manila confirmed the planned visit, but said it could not release details yet.

“It is planned, but the program is not yet confirmed and we can’t give any details as of the moment,” the Delegation said when sought for comment.

The European legislators’ trip also comes shortly after the Philippines and the EU reaffirmed ties in a Senior Officials’ Meeting earlier this month, where they "had a candid exchange of views... and raised their respective concerns" about the human rights situation in the Philippines. 

The EU earlier criticized the administration’s anti-narcotics war, citing the more than 3,000 deaths in anti-drug operations and alleged human rights violations in the country. 

In response, tough-talking President Rodrigo Duterte has lashed out at the EU several times in his public speeches, saying Europeans do not understand the extent of the Philippines’ drug problem. In May, the government announced it declined 250 million Euros (P13.89 billion) in fresh grants from the EU. 

“I hope to explain to them that there are some deaths, but that’s not state-sponsored. Please understand and accept that the President is promoting a bigger human value, which is family integrity, to keep the family together,” Angara said in an interview. 

“One addict in the family can destroy the family,” he said. 

Angara said Duterte, in appointing him as special envoy, had asked him to make European officials understand the gravity of the Philippines’ drug problem. 

“He just told me ‘please explain to them that the drug situation in the Philippines is unusual.' It’s almost in all of the [roughly] 42,000 barangays,” Angara said.

He said the President was only after giving every person the “right to a tranquil and peaceful community.” 

Angara said he intends to ask the EU to maintain a direct line of communication with the Philippines, citing earlier exchanges coursed through the media. 

“Let’s establish a direct line instead of going to the media. If there’s an incident, call me… before they blast statements or a parliamentarian hits us,” he said. 

Angara and Lopez are planning a visit to the EU headquarters in Brussels in September to touch base with trade and economic officials.