Manila Standard | 19 August 2008
Side deal stalls debate on Japan pact
By Fel V. Maragay
Senators have suspended debates on the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement pending a clarification by the Foreign Affairs and Trade departments as well as the Japanese government on the status of a side agreement that will address constitutional issues raised by lawmakers.
Senator Mar Roxas, co-chairman of the Senate Jpepa panel and chairman of committee on trade and commerce, asked for the suspension after he was informed by Trade Secretary Peter Favila that the negotiation for the side agreement has not yet been concluded.
Favila has been holding talks with Japanese Ambassador to Manila Makoto Katsura on the side agreement which will be in the form of an exchange of notes, as recommended by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, chairman of the committee on foreign affairs.
Roxas told Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan not to schedule anymore interpellation for Jpepa during plenary sessions until the Chamber is assured by Favila that the side agreement will definitely be forged.
“We will be wasting the time of the Chamber if we will debate on the trade, economic and other implications of Jpepa if in fact the assumption under which we are proceeding, which is the resolution of the constitutional issues as envisioned by Senator Santiago is in fact not happening or not happening satisfactorily,” he said.
The decision to suspend the Jpepa debate was made by the Senate while Santiago was abroad to campaign for her candidacy as member of the International Court of Justice.
Santiago earlier reported a breakthrough in the efforts to resolve the constitutionality problem when she was informed that Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Masahiko Komura instructed Ambassador Katsura to sign the supplementary accord with Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo.
She said the Japanese government accepted her proposed format wherein the side agreement will list every provision in the Philippine Constitution which reserves certain economic activities to Filipino citizens or corporations that are majority owned by Filipinos.
This is intended to cure the perceived constitutional infirmity of a provision in the new bilateral trade treaty which grants “nationalist treatment” and “most favored nation treatment” to Japanese investors who will engage in business enterprises reserved for Filipinos such as utilization of natural resources, public utilities, mass media and advertising.
Prior to Komura’s directive, Santiago disclosed that the negotiation broke down after Katsura did not agree to her suggested format and insisted instead that the side agreement shall contain only a general statement that under no circumstance will the Japanese government allow the economic agreement to violate the Philippine Constitution.
It was on the basis of this positive development that at least l4 members of the committee on foreign relations signed the committee report on the proposed deal with Japan, paving the way for floor debate on the accord. But most of the senators signed the report with reservations.
Santiago said that since majority of the 23-member Senate have affixed their signature, the ratification of the trade treaty is well within sight. She said it would be easy to persuade other senators to cast an affirmative vote to the controversial agreement.
But Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Joker Arroyo and Aquilino Pimentel Jr. made it clear that their signing of the committee report with reservations means that they may decide to reject the agreement if their objections to the agreement are not satisfactorily addressed.