Three-headed body

January 22, 2018

The Senate approved on second reading last week three major international treaties that will officially bind the Philippines on multilateral and on bilateral basis with the contracting country partners. Notably, all three treaties are with countries in Europe under the umbrella of the powerful bloc called the European Union (EU).

Approved were, namely: the Agreement between the Philippines and the Federal Republic of Germany on Social Security; the Agreement on Social Security between the Philippines and the Kingdom of Sweden (Phl-Sweden SSA); and, the Framework Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation Between the Philippines and the European Union (Phl-EU PCA). Although virtually effective as approved already, these three treaties still need to go through third and final reading and must get two-thirds vote of the Senate ratification scheduled today.

As the treaty-ratifying body, the Senate committee on foreign relations recommended for concurrence on these three treaties, the common denominator of which revolve around the interest and welfare of close to one million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). This fact was underscored by Senator Loren Legarda as the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that shepherded the approval of these agreements as beneficial to Filipinos and the country. The EU countries are home to an estimated 700,000 to 800,000 overseas Filipinos. The largest Filipino communities live and work in Italy, the United Kingdom (UK), and Greece.

Of the three international agreements, the PCA is the mother-of-all of treaties with the EU that will serve as the general framework of relations between the Philippines and the 28 EU countries and is expected to provide one venue to foster better cooperation between the two parties on political, economic and development issues.

We were at the EU headquarters in Brussels when the long pending PCA was finally reported out at the Senate during the first week of December last year at the height of renewed tensions with our country’s relationship with the EU. I was among the six Filipino members of the media sent there by the EU Delegation to the Philippines, headed by ambassador Franz Jessen, under the EU Journalists Programme.

“Given the current realities of our bilateral relations with the EU, the Framework Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation will serve as a solid platform for dialogue to explore ways to achieve our shared goal of a stronger partnership based on mutual respect, trust, and equality,” Legarda pointed out. While she did not go into details, the Senator made apparent allusion to the current state of affairs with the EU under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

In pushing for the ratification of this PCA with the EU, Sen. Legarda thus underscored the benefits that Filipinos stand to gain once the agreement is formalized. Among other things, she recited the key features of the PCA as committing both parties to pursue dialogue in 41 areas of cooperation.

These include the following new areas of cooperation: combatting terrorism, human trafficking and illicit drugs; countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, small arms, and light weapons; protecting human rights; encouraging environmental sustainability; reducing the impact of climate change; promoting development cooperation, and capacity-building and technical cooperation initiatives; and exchange of experts in the areas of science, technology, statistics, food, and drugs.

Above all these features, the Senator believes the treaty will bolster the status of the Philippines as a beneficiary country under the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) and provide basis for concluding a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which aims to enhance market access for goods, services, and investments for the two sides.

The GSP+ privilege of the Philippines remains in danger with the continuing tirades of President Duterte against the EU in general.

President Duterte has a running feud with the EU, referring to the bloc in general terms, for what he says interference into our country’s affairs of the state. In a number of his extemporaneous speeches, the President denounced the EU in general for demanding the release of detained opposition leader Sen. Leila de Lima. Certain members of the EU Parliament made this demand after a jail visit to De Lima in February last year.

Nonetheless, President Duterte signed the PCA instrument in February in that same year and was immediately transmitted to the Philippine Senate for ratification.

It was former President Benigno Aquino III who first signed the PCA with the EU two years ago. However, the Senate during the 16th Congress failed to ratify it and archived it at the legislative mills. The EU Parliament, on the other hand, immediately ratified it two years ago.

President Duterte endorsed the PCA for Senate ratification even while his feud with the EU heated up. This after the EU Council head scored the Duterte administration for the much reported human rights abuses and perceived state-sanctioned high number of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the Philippines in the conduct of war against illegal drugs trafficking.

President Duterte may have finally realized by now we have a very complicated relationship with the EU. It is a bloc of countries grouped together but divided into three independent branches of government – similar to the Philippines – and is headed each by a president.

President Duterte met already with EU Council President Donald Tusk whom he invited to join him at the East Asia-EU forum held in Manila in November last year. The EU Commission, on the other hand, is headed by its current president Jean-Claude Juncker. Antonio Tajani, at the same time, is the president of the EU Parliament.

The EU is a three-headed body that President Duterte may have to contend with differently from the other.

Source: Philstar