Last chance for Japan deal

By Fel V. Maragay
Published in the October 15, 2007 issue of the Manila Standard TODAY

The Senate will hold one more public hearing on the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement to give the executive branch a last chance to refute the objections raised by various groups against the treaty and their argument that it is heavily lopsided in favor of Japan.

The committee on foreign relations, headed by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and trade and commerce, headed by Mar Roxas, were supposed to have wrapped up the hearings Oct. 8, after holding five hearings lasting an average of three hours each.

But Santiago agreed with the suggestion of Senator Edgardo Angara to hold another hearing since he felt that many of the basic objections of the oppositors, especially the alleged unconstitutional provisions, remain largely unanswered by the resource persons from the administration.

Despite her inclination to reject the treaty and to recommend a renegotiation of the JPEPA, Santiago said she may still change her mind depending on the point-by-point rebuttal by the executive branch of the objectionable provisions, including the trade, investment and environment issues and the hiring of Filipino nurses and caregivers by Japanese hospitals.

“I have to keep an open mind until after that last hearing and until all the parties shall have submitted their written memoranda by Oct. 23,” Santiago said.

But she said she may request either Roxas or Angara to preside over the last hearing because she will tour a number of countries and deliver legal lectures before various groups as part of her candidacy for membership in the International Court of Justice.

In the last hearing, retired Supreme Court Justice Florentino Feliciano warned that if the JPEPA is implemented, Japanese investors may be entitled to own more than 40 percent of public utility enterprises in the Philippines “in direct contravention” of the nationalist provision of the Constitution.

But Ambassador Manuel Teehankee, permanent Philippine representative to the World Trade Organization and spokesman of the JPEPA legal panel, assured that the national treatment provision of the bilateral accord does not grant parity rights to Japanese businessmen.

Contrary to the criticisms of anti-JPEPA groups, Teehankee said there is no commitment in the agreement for Japanese investors to engage in the services sector such as in public utilities, educational institutions, the media and advertising—because these are reserved only for Filipino-owned companies.

But Angara noted that Justice Feliciano asserted that the alleged constitutional flaw of JPEPA is not without remedy, by suggesting further negotiation of the questionable provisions.

Santiago stressed that the power of the Senate is limited to either ratify or reject the JPEPA. “We cannot possibly amend the treaty. What we can do is to send the treaty back to the executive branch for renegotiation, and for amendment or exclusion as we shall see fit in the Senate floor. But of course, they will have to take my recommendation as chairman of the foreign relations committee in full significance.”

Roxas said it is possible that a renegotiation of the economic accord will be recommended by the Senate while acknowledging that there are also many good points in the treaty.

“We cannot say that the advantages are zero. There are many benefits to be derived here. What we are asking is whether the advantages outweigh or are less than the disadvantages to us,” Roxas said.

The Fair Trade Alliance maintained that the prudent action for the Senate is to withhold concurrence on JPEPA and make the corrections and get back to the negotiating table “to make our relation with Japan a fair, balanced and a sustainable one.”

FairTrade said Japan got what it wanted in JPEPA but it seems the Philippines did not even know what it wants.

“There is sufficient time to send this agreement back to the negotiating table for review. There is no need to rush. There is time to clarify some provisions, modify some clauses or correct some mistakes before the treaty is allowed to enter into force,” FairTrade convenor Dave Diwa said.

  1. It is not so much as to whether its constitutional or not. Claimed benefits is totally different from actual benefits. The government has yet to actually substantiate their claims. In the end, its about fighting for equal and fair opportunities

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