Mar Roxas’s defeatist attitude

Published in Bernardo Lopez’s UPSHOT column in Business World, January 31, 2008

In a last ditch effort to make solons listen to reason, Bobby Tanada and the Fair Trade Alliance (FTA) gave a rebuttal to the ‘tabla-talo’ logic of Senator Mar Roxas concerning the Japan Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).

Mar Roxas, chair of the Committee on Trade and Commerce, in his ‘tabla-talo’ campaign, is saying that the Philippines stands to lose more by rejecting JPEPA. Bobby Tanada, on the other hand, says we should strike a ‘win-win’ situation, a position of equality, rather than a tabla-talo situation, a position of subservience.

Indeed, ‘tabla-talo’ is a defeatist attitude that since we cannot achieve equality, we might as well try to get what we can even under severe inequality. In other words, his logic runs – let us be blind to our position of inferiority so we can at least pick up a few crumbs. It is our colonial mentality all over again, the inability to stand up and fight for our rights. It is surrendering without putting up a fight.

Mar argues from the fact that Japan is our largest trading partner next to the US. Rejection he says means heavy economic losses. But we do not have to reject. All the FTA is asking, the middle position, is to DEFER, until we can rectify the imbalances and inequity, just a bit more time to make amendments before ratification.

We can tell the Japanese, “Hey, please wait a bit. Our government officials kept the deal a secret for a long time, and when it was presented to our legislature, they had no choice but to show the deal finally. And by that time, it was too late to make a full fledge evaluation. Of course, we will consider ratification, but please let us remove the inequalities.”

The worms started to come out in trickles. They reared their ugly faces at the senate hall, without any public consultation. Secondly, my dear Japanese friends in trade, you authored the JPEPA with very little inputs from the subservient Filipino panel. You were talking to subservient political appointees, not true traders or economists like yourselves.

The JPEPA controversy ultimately boils down to the issue of subservience.

Will it really result in huge economic losses? Do we lose more with JPEPA or lose more without it? It is a case of a lesser evil. One of the many terribly unequal provisions revolves around the entry of Japanese ‘factory ships’ to take away our dwindling tuna, resulting in the dislocation of millions of already-dislocated marginal fishing communities. Is this not a huge loss? The gains of JPEPA in trade are for the upper crust and leaves the marginals more destitute.

It is pathetic that the ‘moderate’ Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) is for JPEPA provided they get a bit of cash for workers, namely, a ‘safety net’ of P2 billion for dislocated workers. They are mercenaries willing to sell our souls for a song, for thirty pieces of silver in their hands. They do not care if the deal is one-sided as long as they get their piece of the pie. The Japanese must be laughing at us that it is so cheap to buy our support for a one sided deal, namely P2 billion, which is a drop in the bucket if you think of entire industries, like tuna and sardines, permanently dislocated.

Miriam, on the other hand, is obsessed with the legal issue of the constitution. As a lawyer, she views this as a real threat. But she cannot see beyond the legal aspects. She cannot read in between the lines on provisions which will dislocate marginal communities. As long as the legal hurdles are addressed, everything is fine with her.

Her ‘conditional concurrence’ is a lame-duck excuse to get the deal ratified no matter what, the order from Malacanang. Conditional concurrence sweeps under the rug all the legal inconsistencies of JPEPA, hoping it does not blow up into our faces later. The logic is – let’s get this over and done with, as the boss says, and think of consequences later.

Bobby says our JPEPA is inferior to the agreements entered into by Japan with Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. We get the raw end of a deal and we agree to it. “We are not against economic partnership with any country, in this case Japan, because this is not inevitable under a more globalized economic environment. But we must be cautious about entering into these trade arrangements so that in the end it will truly serve and support the national development agenda of the country,” Bobby adds.”

FTA further pointed out that “it is not true that more market opening will happen if there is JPEPA, in fact, as of now, close to 90% of Philippine exports to Japan are already enjoying duty free access to Japan, whether there is JPEPA or not. On the other hand, local industries will suffer because JPEPA allows the entry of used clothing (ukay ukay) and second hand vehicles to the Philippines.”

The problem is our solons who vote on JPEPA for the wrong reasons, namely political – Malacanang says so; or we can sweep the legal problems under the rug. It is as if they are arguing on the economic aspects when deep down their agenda is political. Politics will bring us all down.

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