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Philippines - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:37 pm on 24th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 3:37 pm, 24th January 2019

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for initiating this all-too-short debate. We have been able to encompass a wide range of issues, not least the inequality and poverty, which he and my noble friend mentioned, in a country rich with really good people. That is what makes this whole situation so awful.

Human Rights Watch’s latest world report focuses on Duterte’s murderous war on drugs, which has now expanded nationwide. As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, mentioned, the number of deaths is horrendous. The official figures are bad enough—5,000 in just over two years—but of course that is just the tip of the iceberg; there are far more going on. As Amnesty International has reported, there is evidence of increased threats, intimidation and violence against those expressing criticism of the Administration and Government of the Philippines. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, rightly highlighted the case of Senator Leila de Lima, Duterte’s most prominent critic, who has remained in jail since her arrest in February 2017 on trumped-up drug charges.

That is not all. In May, acting on a petition by the Philippine Government, the Supreme Court ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for her criticism of the “drug war” and other policies of the Administration. Duterte has also targeted the Catholic Church, which has criticised the drug war, accusing bishops of corruption and labelling most Filipino priests as homosexuals. In December he urged the public to kill “useless bishops” because,

“all they do is criticise”,

the Government.

As we have heard, our Government have responded. Last August, while in Manila, Mark Field called for adherence to the rules-based international system and expressed regret at the decision by the Philippines to leave the International Criminal Court. At the UN Human Rights Council in September, the UK urged the Philippines to investigate killings associated with the war on drugs and to ensure the safety of land rights defenders. Field also confirmed in a response to a Written Question that the UK embassy, as noble Lords have mentioned, has raised concerns with senior officials and government figures, and has maintained regular contact with human rights groups.

These steps by our Government are welcome, but we also have to see whether a consistent message is being given to Duterte’s Administration. As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, mentioned, we also have an operation by Liam Fox’s trade department to improve relations with that Administration. We also have Richard Graham MP, the Prime Minister’s trade envoy. I would like to know a little more about trade envoys and exactly what they are doing when they go around the world. When this particular trade envoy was in Manila after the referendum, he said:

“The opportunity for our own FTA with the Philippines is exciting”,

adding:

The UK and the Philippines have such a strong relationship and let’s make it stronger”.

What steps are the Government taking to ensure there is a consistent message to Duterte and his Administration? Is briefing and advice being given to the trade department and to these trade envoys on the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines? I also hope the Minister will be able to tell us what we are doing to ensure these proposed trade agreements are consistent with international law and our international agreements to meet obligations on human rights.