Junk JPEPA, love our OFWs

Here’s Tony Lopez’ take on JPEPA, published in his Virtual Reality column in the Manila Times.

Junk JPEPA, love our OFWs
By Tony Lopez

An assault on the Constitution.

That is how three prominent lawyers have described the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement. The lawyers are Justice Florentino Feliciano, former University of the Philippines law dean Merlin Magalona and former senator Lorenzo Wigberto Tañada. I listened to the three Monday morning
make their presentation before the two Senate committees conducting hearings on the proposed treaty—Foreign Relations chaired by Miriam Defensor Santiago and Trade and Commerce chaired by Mar Roxas.

I see no compelling or cogent reason why the Senate should ratify JPEPA, now and in the future. JPEPA is simply a bad deal. It will enable the Japanese to dump waste in the Philippines and yet treat Filipino nurses as temporary workers even after they have learned to speak—and write—in Japanese, fluently. It runs roughshod over the Constitution. Every Filipino who loves himself, loves his people and loves his country should raise his fist against this treaty.

After five hearings, Senator Santiago says JPEPA is dead and Mar Roxas says the government side, represented Monday by three Cabinet members, Peter Favila of Trade, Arthur Yap of Agriculture, and Francisco Duque of Health, has yet to win a round. Speaking mostly extemporaneously, Justice Undersecretary Claudio Teehankee made a rather lame defense of the constitutional aspects of JPEPA. A bar topnotcher, he even tended to take the side of lawyer Feliciano.

Peter Favila, who of late has become detached from media (he doesn’t answer or return your phone calls) and even from his industry sector (he didn’t bother to attend the August opening of the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers, Inc.’s first-ever international auto show, which was a rousing success) has failed miserably in selling JPEPA to the public.

Feliciano, who is in Washington, D.C., and who Miriam described as a genius, presented the best paper at Monday’s hearing. His memo was read for him by lawyer Roberto San Juan. Feliciano anchored his objections to JPEPA on its two major provisions—Article 89 (national treatment) and Article 93 (prohibition of performance requirements).

Article 89 treats the Japanese and their companies like Filipinos “with respect to the establishment, acquisition, expansion, management, operation, maintenance, use, possession, liquidation, sale or other
disposition of investments.”

What can Filipinos do in the Philippines? Filipinos can own land, own at least 60 percent of public utilities, franchises, and companies engaged in water, minerals, coal, petroleum, energy, fisheries, forestry, timber,
wildlife, flora and fauna, and marine resources in the country’s territory, including its archipelagic waters and exclusive economic zone; own at least 100 percent retail, schools and media, and engage in the
professions. These rights are given the Japanese under JPEPA.

Under Article 93, you cannot impose any condition on the Japanese before they could invest in the Philippines. Such conditions include a minimum level or value of export (if the Japanese register with the Board of Investments as exporter and then say later they don’t want to export anything, you can’t do anything about it), minimum local content (Japanese cars can come in completely built-up, without local content and without paying any tariff), and requiring them to give preference to your products, peg the volume or value of their imports to the amount of their investments, employ Filipinos as executives, managers, or as directors; employ a minimum number of Filipinos; transfer their technology or process
even if that is ordered by a court or an unfair trade body; locate their plant or headquarters in the Philippines, conduct R&D, and make Philippine companies their suppliers.

In addition, in the future, we cannot put restrictions on the Japanese on what businesses and areas they will engage in, unless we identify those areas now or say we restrict them now.

For all that bullshit, what do we get? Japanese money. How much? We exported $7.9 billion to Japan in 2006. Our exports grow by no more than 9 percent a year. The Japanese brought in $401 million in foreign direct investments (FDI) last year. Japanese FDI has been declining in the past three years.

How much do all foreign investors bring to the Philippines yearly? Not more than $2.5 billion a year. How much is FDI growth per year? FDI has been declining since 1998.

How much did Filipino workers remit to the Philippines in 2006? $12.7 billion. Annual growth rate: at least 10 percent a year. OFW earnings have doubled in the past five years.

The conclusion is obvious: Junk JPEPA. Don’t pay much attention to foreign investors, Japanese or whatever. But take care of our OFWs. Yearly, they bring in more money than all investors—Filipinos and foreign—combined.

President Arroyo was right after all. Given the choice whether she would allow beheading a kidnapped OFW in the Middle East and being in the good graces of George Bush, she chose the former. Good call, Ma’am.

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