Mass mobilization marks the first senate hearing on Jpepa

Bawal magtapon ng basura ditoManila, Philippines. – A crowd of more than 300 laborers, farmers, fishers, and environmentalists from the Magkaisa Junk JPEPA Coalition (MJJC) today called on the Senators of the 14th Congress to look beyond the rosy projections and government hype surrounding the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), and to carefully assess its short-term and long-term implications. The group’s call came on the day of the first scheduled Senate hearing for this historic, precedent-setting treaty.

Presenting a tableau depicting a group of peasants and a Japanese sumo wrestler engaged in a game of tug-of-war, the Coalition warned that approving the JPEPA would be tantamount to unilateral disarmament, as it surrenders the right of the Filipino people to protect itself in the future, and gives up so much for so little. One of the issues being contested by the group is the possibility that the JPEPA will pave the way for land ownership by foreigners.

“The purpose of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) like the JPEPA is to force the country’s hand on economic issues, including opening up land ownership and government procurement to foreigners,” said Josua Mata of the MJJC. “It is, at its core, about foreigners being given more rights than Filipinos in their own land.”

Amongst the rights that the country stands to lose under the JPEPA is the right to require Japanese investors to transfer technology and the right to hire a certain level of Filipino nationals as conditions to doing business in the Philippines. Among all the ASEAN countries that have already entered into economic partnership agreements with Japan, it is only the Philippines which has given up these rights.

By failing to make the proper reservations for future measures in the Investments chapter of the JPEPA (Chapter 8), the Philippines has effectively surrendered its right to enact and implement future legislation and policies to achieve national development goals. Reservations operate as exceptions to the provisions of the treaty, and when no reservations are expressly made, it is understood that the countries cannot subsequently invoke future laws or policies. The Coalition feels that the absence of any reservation of “the right to adopt or maintain any future measures” – which is something present in Japan’s commitments, as well as those of Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore – is disturbing and should be cause for concern.

If in the future Congress or local government unit (LGU) enacts a measure that threatens the profit margin of Japanese investors, investors can claim that such a law or ordinance is tantamount to expropriation, and can demand compensation before an international arbitral tribunal, such as what happened in the Fraport-Terminal III case. Even a cursory examination of the experiences of Canada and Mexico under the NAFTA will show that this scenario is not far-fetched at all.

“We are, in effect, giving them the right to do as they please without thought or regard as to how their activities will impact on the Filipino people. Smuggling in provisions like this in EPAs like the JPEPA is a thinly disguised way to circumvent the laws of the land without having to resort to Constitutional change,” Mr. Mata added. “The government should start thinking about the country’s long-term, strategic interests instead of focusing simply on Japanese investor interests to the exclusion of all else.”

The Coalition believes that the Senate must not be swayed by the hype and euphoria of promised Japanese investments and official development assistance, but must take a long, hard, critical look at what the JPEPA actually states. “We trust that the Senators have not forgotten the commitment they made to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land, and to protect the interests of the Filipino people,” said Mr. Mata. “We fervently hope that the 14th Senate will not go down in history as the Senate that sacrificed the future of the Philippines and the Filipino people at the altar of Japanese government and investor interests.”

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