The Freeman, Cebu
Vigilance related to the Philippine-Japan Free Trade Agreement
by Cherry Piquero-Ballescas
5 May 2005
While in Japan, our attention has also been called to thoroughly examine the free trade agreement (FTA) between Japan and the Philippines by UP Alumni Association colleague, Francis. His points are worth sharing with all so that Filipinos and Japanese alike will ensure genuine fair trade provisions between the two countries.
First, Francis invites all of us to follow and closely watch the full details of the free trade agreement with Japan, carefully checking that no nation, especially ours, is duly disadvantaged through over-generous, one-sided concessions to be given by our government to the Japanese government.
Historically, our free trade relations with the United States turned out to be one-sided, in favor of the US and to our disadvantage. Let us hope this will not happen again in our negotiations for the free trade agreement with Japan.
Francis also raises the point of watching out that our government does not exchange major concessions for the chance to send Filipino nurses and caregivers to Japan. He wants to clarify that "Nurses are required to be licensed in the Philippines and have considerable experience before they will be even considered for entry into Japan. Caregivers have to be college graduates!"
He further clarifies that "Things then start getting really difficult when they get here. The nurses will have to take and pass the Japanese nursing licensure exams (given only in Nihongo [Japanese Language] of course) within three years of their arrival. The caregivers have four years to pass the caregivers’ exams (also in Nihongo). Only when they have passed the exams will they be granted the actual nurses and caregivers visas, which are renewable every three years. If they fail, instant uwi sila sa Pinas.... (can) someone who does not speak any bit of Nihongo pass a written exam in Nihongo in just three years?"
We still have to verify for ourselves what visas the nurses and the caregivers will be given once the FTA goes into effect. While the FTA negotiations are ongoing, we hope our government will not allow a repetition of the "limbo" visa given our entertainers, one that did not consider them as workers in Japan. Because of the non-working visa status of our entertainers, the koogyoo visa, they were deprived of formal legal workers’ protection and compensation in Japan. We hope that the FTA negotiations will learn from the past and ensure the full legal protection of our caregivers and nurses as legal recognized workers within Japan.
We also hope that genuine representatives of the concerned labor sector as well as civil society and church representatives who are experts on the plight of workers in Japan are also invited to join the FTA negotiations to draw up a wider, more comprehensive, and worker-sensitive policy to guide Filipino labor migration to Japan in the near future. The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is a very precious policy between Japan and the Philippines that requires everyone’s attention and vigilance promptly and urgently.