Duty-free exports to US seen in jeopardy

Group cites PH failure in human, labor rights issues




02:40 AM May 2nd, 2013

By: Paolo G. Montecillo, May 2nd, 2013 02:40 AM

The renewal of the privileges enjoyed by local exporters of key commodities to the United States is in jeopardy due to the government’s failure to address extra-judicial killings and the promotion of basic labor rights, a Washington-based organization said.

In a post-hearing brief this month, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) said privileges under the US Generalized System of Preference (GSP) for local firms might be suspended, leading to higher tariffs that would affect the competitiveness of the country’s exports.

Under the Obama administration’s GSP program, certain goods from around 130 developing nations around the world are allowed to enter the United States duty-free. Among the prerequisites to eligibility, however, include reforms in the area of basic human rights.

“A failure to prosecute military personnel accused of human rights violations and those under their command has been a consistent pattern of the Philippine government,” the ILRF said.

The group said that while the government was taking steps to reduce extra-judicial executions and enforced disappearances by military personnel, new cases have been reported and impunity for these crimes continued.

“Human Rights NGOs in the Philippines report many hundreds of cases of extrajudicial executions in the last decade (137 killings under the Aquino administration since 2010), enforced disappearances remain unresolved, and new cases continue to be reported,” it added.

Human rights defenders, labor leaders, environmentalists and members of other legal organizations were “frequently vilified by the military as enemies of the state” or members of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA), the group said.

Indigenous communities also frequently bear the brunt of human rights abuses in the Philippines because they often live in conflict areas between the NPA and the government and where industries such as mining are fought over.

“Although abuses targeting tribal Filipinos have been reported for decades, there has been a noticeable increase in the past year of attacks directed at them or their supporters,” ILRF said.

The group noted that almost no perpetrators have been convicted and that impunity persisted in part due to inadequate criminal investigations and witness protection schemes, a lack of political will to ensure effective prosecutions and lengthy delays in court proceedings.

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