Toxic Trade News / 4-17 August 2008
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Junk JPEPA, Appeal Bishops
I˝iguez, Pabillo, Tirona, Tobias, Ledesma, Labayen
by Roy Lagarde, CBCP Monitor, Vol. 12 No. 16
4-17 August 2008 – Roman Catholic bishops made a last minute strong pitch to the Senate to junk the Japan Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).

At least six bishops added their voices to the growing number of civil society groups who want the bilateral trade pact, which many fear that if could be ratified soon, be totally rejected by the Senate. The move comes after twelve senators signed the committee report on a resolution seeking concurrence of the controversial agreement. In a statement, the bishops and other signatories called on the Senate to uphold national interest and defend Filipinos’ rights and welfare.

“We call on the Senate to stand up for the Filipino people on the issue of JPEPA,” they said, adding that side notes will do little to improve the Philippines’ position. According to the statement, after several hearings in the Senate, the public have yet to see credible studies to back up the fantastic claims of the government that the deal will boost the economy.

But rather than economic development, signatories of the statement said, the agreement is poised to further damage the already crisis-ridden Philippine economy. They said the side agreements “tread on dangerous waters as has been shown by precedents in the arena of international treaties.”

“The faults and ills of JPEPA cannot be fixed by side notes. The threats on the environment on the lives and on the livelihood of the Filipino people cannot be eliminated by a general statement that our so-called trading partner will respect Philippine laws,” they said.

The Arroyo administration is urging the Senate to ratify the $4 billion trade deal with Japan, which it says could create over 300,000 jobs. The pact would bolster exports to Japan, the government claimed, a market being eyed by market rival Thailand. Japan has also pledged to employ thousands of Philippine nurses.

Under JPEPA Japanese investors could also own Philippine private land for all ventures other than those in the manufacturing and services sector, thus violating the Constitution, the statement read. Also, they said JPEPA allows Japan to fish in Philippine waters, an activity reserved solely for Filipino citizens. They added that JPEPA allows Japan to exclude and thus protect 651 of its products, while allowing the Philippines to protect only six.

But critics have objected with claims the deal would see toxic waste sent to the Philippines. However, this had been denied by the government, which said that diplomatic notes had been exchanged stating that it would not be accepting Japanese waste in exchange for economic concessions.

The deal was originally struck in 2006 by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Sen. Mar Roxas said the Senate must concur with the ratification of the JPEPA before November or it will be left behind by the rest of the South East Asian nations. He said that Japan will hold a summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in November or December this year, with economic partnership agreements as the main agenda.

Roxas warned that if the Senate had not concurred with JPEPA by then, the Philippines would lose a major market for its products like copra that are also offered by other ASEAN member nations.

Catholic bishops who signed the statement were Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Bishops Deogracias Iñiguez (Kalookan), Rolando Tirona (Infanta), Antonio Tobias (No-valiches) and Infanta BishopPrelate Emeritus Julio Labayen.

They were also joined by other Church leaders like Bro. Edmundo Fernandez, provincial superior of De La Salle Brothers and Bro. Armando Luistro. Others who signed were former vice president Teofisto Guingona Jr., Von Hernandez of Greenpeace, columnist Randolph David, and former Senate president Jovito Salonga.

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