Senate chief insists on Japan pact’s side deal

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — President Arroyo has renewed her call for legislators to see the wisdom of ratifying the Japan Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement even as Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. insisted that a side pact banning toxic waste dumping has to be signed first.

The President made the appeal during the traditional vin d’honeur for the diplomatic corps in Malacañang, with Villar and Japanese Ambassador to Manila Makoto Katsura in the audience.

“In the international arena, we had hoped by now to have a trade agreement signed, sealed, and delivered with Japan. We remain optimistic that our Senate will see the wisdom of approving this vital agreement,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

But Villar immediately shot down the idea of ratifying the bilateral free-trade accord without a separate agreement signed first guaranteeing that the country will not become a dumping ground for Japan’s toxic wastes.

“We can no longer touch the treaty. Either we ratify it or we reject it. So our condition is that there should be a side agreement that is signed first by both countries before we can ratify it,” Villar said in a chance interview after the vin d’honeur.

But Villar admitted that the ratification of JPEPA has been gaining ground in the upper House, with Senators Edgardo Angara, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Mar Roxas throwing their support to the bilateral accord.

“I cannot preempt the decision of my colleagues. If majority of my colleagues in the Senate would prefer to ratify it now without the side agreement, then there is nothing more I can do. But I think the issue of toxic waste dumping has always been our concern,” he said.

The treaty was signed in September 2006 and has been ratified by the Japanese Diet on the same year.

Roxas earlier announced that a draft paper recommending JPEPA’s immediate passage will be sent to other senators when Congress resumes sessions later this month.

“I’ve concluded that there is not much gain that is inherent in the treaty thus far, but the loss is definitely calculable,” Roxas said.

The deal, which has been consistently rejected by environmentalists and militant groups, would immediately remove all tariffs on about 80 percent of Philippine exports to Japan.