MANILA, Philippines — Sweden has raised with the Philippine government the issues on human rights, the conduct of the war on drugs and the possible reintroduction of capital punishment.
Oscar Stenstrom, deputy minister of trade and European Union affairs, raised the issues during a meeting with officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) during his two-day visit in Manila on Wednesday and Thursday last week to improve bilateral trade.
During the meetings, Stenstrom also raised developments that concern the Swedish government and Swedish businesses in the country.
“I have raised the issues of human rights, about the possible reintroduction of capital punishment. The questions on human rights and especially how law enforcement has been conducting the war on drugs concern us. It’s an issue which I brought up with the government of the Philippines,” Stenstrom said in an interview with The STAR on Thursday after a meeting with Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Enrique Manalo at the DFA in Pasay City.
Stenstrom said Swedish companies operating in the Philippines are concerned about the developments.
“If they are concerned, we are concerned, and as I said we have a very strong view on human rights, which I have explained to the Philippine government that we disagree here. We would like to see improvement and we are expecting improvement,” he stressed.
The developments that concern Sweden were also discussed during a meeting with Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez.
“I can only say that we have different views on the issue. It’s very clear, the position of the Swedish government as well as the EU Commission,” Stenstrom said.
“But I also received an answer that they moved the responsibility from the national police to the PDEA and with the promise that that would improve the situation and this is now to be seen by us,” he added, referring to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
But President Duterte said he needed to give back to the Philippine National Police (PNP) the lead role in the war on narcotics because the drug menace continued to worsen.
The document ordering the return of the drug war operation to the PNP is reportedly awaiting Duterte’s signature.
Last month, Duterte designated the PDEA as the agency in charge of the war on drugs.
The order returning the PNP to the frontline of the war on drugs was not mentioned by Philippine officials during the meeting.
“That was not mentioned to me,” Stenstrom said.
Sweden, he said, would like to see the Philippines keep the GSP+ trade privilege, which the EU had threatened to cancel because of the alleged extrajudicial killings related to the drug war.
In March, the EU was urged to follow a proposal hitting the Philippine government where it may hurt most, by removing trade incentives for the country.
Members of the European Parliament asked the EU to put pressure on the Philippines by considering the removal of the GSP+ privilege.
“In the future, we would like to see a free trade arrangement between the EU and the Philippines. We also would like to see the Philippines keep the GSP+, the arrangement in which the trade is ongoing right now,” Stenstrom said.
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