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Senate indignant, CBCP sad over ‘toxic’ accord

Philippine Daily Inquirer - 10/26/2006

Senate indignant, CBCP sad over ‘toxic’ accord

ARCHBISHOP Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, yesterday said he was saddened by the agreement that environmentalists fear would turn the Philippines into Japan’s dump for toxic wastes.

Indignation was also voiced in the Senate and calls were made for an investigation of the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA). Under the Constitution, the Senate ratifies treaties entered into by the government.

Sen. Pia Cayetano has long urged Malacañang to transmit the agreement to the Senate for the chamber’s scrutiny. “I can’t see any reason why the government should continue keeping the public in the dark on our commitments a month after the pact’s signing,” she said.

“It should be scrutinized thoroughly, especially on its environmental and trade imbalance implications,” said Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Malacañang would review all products covered by JPEPA. “We will not agree to become a dumping ground,” said Ermita, who acknowledged he was unaware that toxic wastes were among items with zero tariffs that could get into the country.

He said the Philippines and Japan were “conscious of the need to protect each other’s interests.” He added that “anything that would hurt the other’s interest would be avoided.”

“As a citizen, I’m against the plan,” Lagdameo told the Church-run Radio Veritas. “I feel bad that Filipinos and the whole world will know that the Philippines will be used as dump site by Japan.”

Environmentalists have criticized the agreement which President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi signed on Sept. 9 in Helsinki, Finland.

Lagdameo was concerned about the effects on the environment of the entry of toxic and hazardous waste. Protection of the environment has been a major concern of the Catholic Church. “We should take care of our environment because it’s created by God and it is not ours. We have the responsibility to hand it over to future generations,” Lagdameo said.

Trade expert

Jeremy I. Gatdula, a lawyer specializing on trade advisory services, dismissed claims by trade officials that toxic wastes would not be allowed into the country because they are banned by existing national and international laws. He said treaties, once ratified, could override laws in conflict with these pacts.

“To say that toxic wastes would not be allowed in because they are banned is simply not conclusively true because the JPEPA can be said to have overridden the ban (once ratified by the Senate),” Gatdula said.

“To say that in a free trade agreement (FTA), all tariffs for products need to be covered and lowered is also not correct,” Gatdula said.

What the World Trade Organization rules actually say is that parties have to include “substantially all trade” in an FTA and not “all trade,” Gatdula explained

Senior Trade Undersecretary Thomas G. Aquino, the chief JPEPA negotiator, said the pact was an all-trade agreement which covered all products that both countries trade.

Gatdula said the meaning of “substantially all-trade” was still subject to discussion even in the WTO because some countries interpret this to mean 60 percent, 70 percent or 80 percent of trade.

‘Like a game of poker’

In a briefing yesterday, Trade Secretary Peter B. Favila said the inclusion of waste was just part of the negotiating strategy. “Like in a game of poker, a good player lays out the weakest cards first to hide the aces,” Favila said. “Our ace cards are the products we want to protect.”

Marilyn Alarilla of the Department of Foreign Affairs said that since both the Philippines and Japan were signatories to the Basel Convention, this international accord on the trade of wastes “takes precedence” over JPEPA.

Asked whether this “understanding” on the Basel Convention was reflected in any way in the JPEPA text or any attached document, Alarilla said it was not cited per se in the agreement since it is “binding practice in bilateral agreements of this nature.”

What was made explicit in the JPEPA was that “we will respect safety and environment standards of both parties,” said Alarilla, the DFA executive director for international economic relations.

“We have sufficient safeguards put in place in this respect,” Alarilla said.

Asked how come the trade in wastes was still covered by the JPEPA despite existing restrictions in the Philippines, she said: “The World Trade Organization prescribes that this bilateral free trade agreement should eliminate tariffs on substantially all trade, which could mean 90 percent of trade.”

The Inquirer called the Japanese Embassy in Manila for comment but the mission has yet to give a reply as of press time yesterday.

Reports from Christian V. Esguerra, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Juliet Labog-Javellana, Ronnel W. Domingo, Volt Contreras

 source: PDI