Senate ratifies controversial trade treaty with Japan

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — VOTING 16-4, the Senate ratified late Wednesday night the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement which is seen to further improve trade relations between the two countries.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago dismissed allegations that JPEPA’s ratification was railroaded, although she admitted that hours before the senators voted, President Macapagal-Arroyo issued a certification stressing the “urgency” to approve the accord.

“Japan had already ratified JPEPA last year. It will be embarrassing for the President if we did not pass it. We will be accused of inaction,” Santiago said. She said that although “flawed,” the treaty can pass the test of constitutionality.

She said that the Senate has one year to amend JPEPA while it is also subject for review every five years.

President Macapagal-Arroyo thanked the Senate for ratifying the treaty, saying a new market has been opened for Philippine products.

“We have diversified our economy not only in terms of niche agri-products and aqua-products and food products but also in terms of markets so that the US is no longer our top export market. That now is China . And now Japan will open up with JPEPA ratified,” she said.

The treaty is expected to bring in more Japanese investments. It also provides zero tariff for 95 percent of imports to Japan and the Philippines and will allow Filipino nurses and caregivers to work in Japan.

Those who concurred to ratify JPEPA were Senate President Manuel Villar, Jr., Senate Pro Tempore Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada, Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan, and Senators Edgardo Angara, Rodolfo Biazon, Juan Ponce Enrile, Richard Gordon, Gringo Honasan, Lito Lapid, Loren Legarda, Ramon Revilla, Jr., Mar Roxas, Juan Miguel Zubiri and Santiago.

Those who voted “no” were Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel, Jr., and Senators Benigno Aquino Jr., Francis Escudero, and Jamby Madrigal. Senators Joker Arroyo and Pia Cayetano were absent during the voting. Sen. Antonio Trillanes cannot vote since he is still detained pending resolution of rebellion charges against him.

Escudero said the treaty was poorly negotiated.

“Our negotiators should not be forgiven for not doing their homework, not following the letter and intent of our Constitution, not obeying laws passed by Congress, not protecting the best interests of our country and people and for selling out on our country’s birthright,” he said.

”This is the first of probably many economic partnership agreements that the Philippine government will enter into and if this is a preview of things to come, at least insofar as how it will be negotiated is concerned, then we, as a country and people, should be truly fearful,” he said.

Pangilinan said he will file a resolution requesting the Office of the President to renegotiate JPEPA next year.