Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

RP, Japan firm up ‘side deal’

By Fel Maragay – Manila Standard

AFTER months of negotiations, Japan and the Philippines have signed a side agreement to address the constitutional issues in their proposed bilateral trade treaty.

The side pact is meant to remove the legal impediment to the Philippine Senate’s ratification of the agreement.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chairman of the committee on foreign relations, broke the news yesterday that Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo and Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura signed on August 28 the side accord, in the form of an exchange of notes, to the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement.

Santiago said the side agreement, which is her brainchild, in effect precludes any constitutional objections to the proposed deal with Japan.

“This exchange of notes means that areas of investment activities reserved by the Constitution to Filipinos, will remain reserved, and will not be opened to Japanese investors.”

The senator from Iloilo said the new agreement ensures that the trade treaty will not result in violation or amendment of any nationalistic provisions of the charter, notably “the ownership of lands of the public domain and exploration, development and utilization of all waters, minerals, coal, petroleum oils, all sources of potential energy, fisheries, forest or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna and other natural resources.”

Santiago said the side accord also confirms that the economic agreement will respect the reservation to Filipinos of “all preferential rights, privileges and concessions granted to qualified Filipinos covering the national economy and patrimony.”

For example, the Japanese cannot lease or own alienable public lands. Neither can they own and transfer private lands.

The side agreement also makes it clear that Japanese nationals and companies are prohibited from operating any public utility, practicing any profession or owning mass media or advertising firms.

Santiago said the new accord will also have the effect of removing the objections or reservations of senators and make it easier to obtain the required two-thirds vote (16 senators) to ratify the JPEPA.

“We are more or less certain we can gather, if not exceed, the required two-thirds vote,” she said.

Senator mar Roxas, chairman of the committee on trade and commerce and co-chairman of the Senate JPEPA panel, said “we see easy sailing” for the trade treaty as a consequence of the signing of the side agreement.

The economic agreement is still under the period of floor debates, with Roxas defending the trade, investments and other economic aspects of the treaty. But Senate President Manuel Villar said the forging of the side accord will hasten the debates and eventually, the voting on the treaty.

Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said that although he welcomes the signing of the side agreement, he and his opposition colleagues would like to ascertain that it is “binding on both countries.”

But Pimentel noted that the side agreement does not cover the other issues such as the export of toxic waste and the treatment of Filipino nurses and caregivers in Japan.

Santiago pointed out that Tokyo and Manila had already signed a separate exchange last year in which the Japanese government committed itself not to export toxic wastes and hazardous substances to the Philippines.

Apart from Santiago and Roxas, the senators who have signifies willingness to concur with Jpepa include Juan Ponce Enrile, Edgardo Angara, Richard Gorodn, Joker Arroyo, Rodolfo Biazon, Panfilo Lacson, Ramon Revilla Jr., Lito Lapid, Manny Villar, Francis Pangilinan, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Loren Legarda, Gregorio Honasan, Jinggoy Estrada and Benigno Aquino Jr. Most of them have signed the committee report on the trade treaty with reservations.

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