Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 13 July 2017
Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Framework Agreement between European Union and Republic of the Philippines: Motion
I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him on his appointment. I will pursue the same theme as my colleagues. The EU regularly negotiates these framework or partnership agreements with third countries. They generally contain proposals to improve diplomatic and economic ties and they usually contain paragraphs on respect for human rights, but there is no framework for these to be enforced or acted on. The agreements are usually precursors to free trade agreements and this particular agreement contains references to the EU supporting the Philippines on counterterrorism and anti-crime measures. The agreement, which was supposed to be negotiated in 2012, came before the European Parliament for ratification in 2016. We generally abstain in the Parliament from these types of reports because we object to the EU being the body negotiating with third countries en bloc. The text of the agreement has positive elements relating to human rights and inclusive conflict resolution. My colleague, Gerry Kelly, has been involved in conflict resolution on one of the Philippine islands. Unfortunately, that negotiation has broken down but it is positive work if we can get involved in that.
The agreement goes to member states to ratify and the question is why it is taking so long When the agreement went through the European Parliament, President Duterte had only taken up office, but since then a campaign of extrajudicial killings by the police of people they accuse of selling drugs, including addicts, has unfolded and the death penalty has been introduced. It is reported that up to 7,000 people have been killed as part of the campaign. Collectively, we have concerns about deteriorating human rights in the country. The EU should not agree to work with the Philippines on counterterrorism and anti-crime measures and I have a huge problem with that. This will involve sharing additional information with that state. The human rights provisions in the agreement will not be enacted by the Union. Why do I say that? We have similar agreements with other countries such as Colombia, Morocco and Israel. People are being picked off one by one in Colombia because of their background while, with regard to Israel, war crimes were committed in Gaza and 2,700 people were killed. People were saying we should cut this off but there is no mechanism and my worry is this agreement will result in the same lack of enforcement. An Irishman, Mr. Eanna Ó Cochláin, was arrested leaving the Laoag Airport and it was claimed he had drugs on him. He claims they were planted on him. Since then, he is living in fear and he is hiding because of the campaign by President Duterte and his followers. This agreement will, therefore, impact on an Irish citizen.
Considering it was approved by the European Parliament in 2016, why is the Government only bringing the agreement to the Oireachtas during the final week of this session? It is a fair question. Everyone is asking about this and what went on in the Dáil earlier in the week. Does the Minister of State agree the Dáil should at least debate these important framework agreements before it is asked to approve them? We have not had the opportunity previously to debate such an agreement. As a new Minister of State, does he accept that should be best practice and the normal practice? The agreement was reached in 2012 and ratified by the European Parliament in 2016. A great deal has changed and President Duterte has come to the power. My difficulty relates to the counterterrorism and anti-crime measures. The President has openly boasted in media interviews about his own involvement in extrajudicial killings and he is completely unrepentant. He has no regrets about his involvement. Human rights groups say this is bonkers and are asking what message this is sending not just to the Philippines Government but other countries around the world. Why should we ratify an agreement with a country that has such a despicable human rights record?
I acknowledge the Minister of State will argue that we are trying to move the Philippines on this but if it does not move, what will be the trigger mechanism to stop the agreement? The human rights provisions are weak and will not be enacted. Will the Minister of State outline one example of where an EU framework or association agreement with a third country has led to substantial improvement in human rights in that country? I do not know of one but I can think of many where this did not happen. I outlined what is happening in Colombia and Israel. Why will this framework agreement be any different? These are reasonable questions, which we must ask as part of our role in monitoring these agreements. The Minister of State referred to Brexit in his opening contribution and positives for trade and so on but we need to look at who we are trading with and why we are trading with them. If they have a bad human rights record, we should try to avoid trading with them. This framework agreement will not push the Philippines Government in any direction. President Duterte is proud and boasts of his own involvement in this activity while one Irishman is potentially facing a long sentence and there could be others in the future. He says it is the result of corrupt practices, but he has been in touch with us as committee members and his friends here have also been in contact with us. They are terrified about his safety. As part of the bigger picture, we are being asked to agree to this framework but I have huge difficulties with it. When the committee concludes its discussion, a message will be sent to the Dáil stating we have scrutinised it. I request that the committee recommends that the Dáil debates this framework before it is ratified. That would be best practice but I do not know if other committee members agree.