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Santiago, Roxas seek conditions on JPEPA

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Santiago, Roxas seek conditions on JPEPA

By Veronica Uy France-Presse

21 April 2008

MANILA, Philippines — Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Manuel Roxas II on Monday endorsed the approval of the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) — but only on certain conditions.

In their report, Roxas, chairman of the trade committee, and Santiago, who chairs the foreign relations committee, recommended the "conditional concurrence in the ratification” of the pact.

Among their conditions was that Manila review the agreement to ensure it does not violate constitutional provisions barring foreigners from owning land and engaging in certain businesses and professions.

It also calls for "a performance requirement" in Japanese investments in the Philippines that would include setting levels of domestic content in certain goods or preference for local goods or services.

Santiago said the changes were necessary to make the proposed pact more favorable to the Philippines, charging that the accord "failed to include reservations that Japan has already conceded to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia."

"We want equal treatment," she said.

Santiago said the proposals would need 16 votes from the Senate, after which the Department of Foreign Affairs would have to negotiate a "supplemental agreement" for the conditions to be included.

Under Philippine rules, a bill is first debated in the Senate committees and then are voted upon by the rest of the Senate, giving Santiago and Roxas more influence on the issue than other senators.

Santiago added that if the new conditions were not accepted, the accord would not be passed this year.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has warned that if the Senate failed to ratify the much-delayed deal with Japan, it could risk losing out further to its Southeast Asian neighbors.

The free trade agreement abolishes import tariffs on many products traded between both countries.

Arroyo struck the deal with Tokyo in 2006, but the Philippine Senate has to ratify it before it becomes a binding treaty.

The treaty has since run into hurdles, with nationalist groups and environmentalists questioning certain provisions that they say puts Manila at a disadvantage.

For one, detractors say provisions allowing trade in trash and granting national treatment for Japanese investors violate the Constitution.