Prepared by: Atty. Tanya Lat, Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services, Inc. (IDEALS)
Last September 9, 2006 in Helsinki, Finland, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi signed the historic Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), a comprehensive free trade agreement and bilateral investment agreement rolled into one, and the first bilateral trade treaty which the Philippines has entered into since the Parity Rights Agreement of 1946 with the U.S.
Over the past 4 months, the JPEPA has been surrounded by controversy, with environmental groups and the rest of civil society sounding alarm bells about provisions in the treaty that will allow Japan to dump its garbage and toxic waste here in the Philippines, with the complicity of unscrupulous Philippine businessmen and importers. The administration, on the other hand, has attempted to justify its decision to enter into the JPEPA, saying that the JPEPA will open up Japanese market access for Philippine goods and services – including our nurses and caregivers – and thereby spur economic growth and reduce poverty. The administration likewise insists that the costs of exclusion (not entering into the JPEPA) may ery well be higher than the costs of inclusion, as our ASEAN neighbors Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore have already entered into similar trade agreements with Japan. In what appears to be an attempt to convince the Philippine public of the benefits of this highly controversial treaty, the deployment of the first batch of Philippine nurses to Japan was bannered on the front pages of major newspapers a couple of weeks back, notwithstanding the fact that the JPEPA is not yet in force and effect pending Senate approval of the treaty.