UPI Asia | 31 July 2008
Japan trade deal imperils Filipino fishers
By Gerry Albert Corpuz
Manila, Philippines - Philippine Senate President Manuel Villar last week announced that the ratification of the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement will be one of the Upper Chamber’s top priorities beginning next month.
Groups opposed to the bilateral economic agreement between Japan and the Philippines expressed fears that its ratification could lead to an inflow of secondhand Japanese ships - similar to the MV Princess of the Stars, a ferry owned by Sulpicio Lines, which sank last month at the height of Typhoon Frank (also known as Typhoon Fengshen).
The fisherfolk alliance Pamalakaya said that JPEPA will provide the widest latitude of business opportunity for Japanese manufacturers to dump their secondhand ships in the Philippines and still rake in huge returns on their investments.
“It is now a fact and public knowledge as admitted by the owners of Sulpicio Lines that MV Princess of the Stars was acquired as a secondhand passenger and cargo ship from Japan for US$5 million, and that the 23,800-ton vessel was only insured for 350 million pesos (US$7.9 million),” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap.
The ship had been used for about 20 years before it was acquired from Japan.
Economic and trade experts who have studied the economic relations between Japan and the Philippines since the military dictatorship of the late Ferdinand Marcos agreed that the practice of Japan selling secondhand and substandard ships to Manila has been going on for nearly four decades.
The Manila government has been very accommodating when it comes to Japan’s old passenger, cargo and commercial fishing vessels since the enactment of the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation, a previous economic pact between Japan and the Philippines in the early 1970s. Economic experts said even the seaworthiness and the performance background of these vessels was highly questionable.
The MV Solar 1 chartered by Petron Philippines from Sunshine Maritime Development Corporation, which sank on Aug. 11, 2006, off Guimaras, spilling 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel, was acquired from Japan.
The fisherfolk group suggested that lawmakers should check the background of 45 sea mishaps involving vessels owned by Sulpicio over the last 28 years and where these ships came from, including the MV Doña Paz, Doña Marilyn and Princess of the Orient, which sank in 1987, 1988 and 1998 respectively. Ships purchased from other countries do not have a similar record of accidents.
“Are these ships come all the way from Japan as secondhand ships? One thing is for sure, JPEPA, if ratified, will give Japan full license to score an anarchic flooding of their old ships under the mantle of the bilateral trade pact,” the group said.
Forces hostile to the Philippines-Japan economic pact recalled that six years ago at the Tuna Congress held in General Santos City on Sept. 9, 2002, Japan announced it would sell commercial fishing vessels to the Philippine government to help it increase its commercial tuna production beginning in 2003.
At present, there are 10,860 commercial fishing vessels operating in the Philippines, of which some 4,000 commercial fishing vessels weighing from 9 to 1,000 gross tons were imported from Japan and other foreign countries as secondhand commercial fishing vessels. Experts say leading ocean and coastal commercial fishing corporations had all imported secondhand commercial fishing vessels.
Pamalakaya has previously argued that JPEPA will allow Japanese factory ships to exploit the country’s exclusive economic zone for its vast tuna reserves. The group asserted that aside from tuna, Japanese transnational fishing companies will also gobble up other marine resources that are reserved for Filipino consumption.
It said that a single factory ship could catch not less than 50,000 metric tons of tuna, equivalent to US$242.4 million in total gross earnings per year. The gains the Philippine government would derive in the form of taxes and profit sharing would be minimal compared to what Japan would get from JPEPA, as far as the fishing aspect of the agreement is concerned. The group said the agreement would benefit Japan’s commercial fishing to the detriment of Filipino tuna producers.
With the increase in the supply of tuna produced by Japanese factory ships and their shipment to Japan and other countries, local tuna producers and small tuna fishermen would be at their mercy by way of depressed prices. Even worse, when tuna stocks in Philippine waters are depleted, it could lead to supply constraints and closure of local tuna producers’ processing plants, the destruction of the local tuna industry and the end of jobs and livelihoods for some 180,000 tuna fishermen and fish workers.
The Philippines will be put to rest in history as the Sinking Republic of Asia if the Manila government insists on having JPEPA ratified. The senators should perform a collective act of patriotism to score a giant kill against the economic treaty and save 90 million Filipinos from this national tragedy.
(Gerry Albert Corpuz is a correspondent of Bulatlat.com, an alternative Philippine online news site. He is also head of the information department of Pamalakaya, a national federation of small fisherfolk organizations in the Philippines. His Web site is www.gerryalbertcorpuz.motime.com, and he can be contacted at [email protected].)