Guingona rips JPEPA, calls it one-sided

QUEZON CITY, Philippines— Former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr criticized today the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), calling it one-sided and unfairly favoring Japanese interests.

“The unfair and one-sided provisions of the JPEPA encroach on the rights of the Filipinos to chart their own destiny,” Guingona said at a press conference held at the Miriam College by the Magkaisa Junk JPEPA Coalition. Speaking during the same press conference, Dr. Leah Paquiz, president of the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA), also heavily criticized the JPEPA for granting Filipino nurses the status of second-class professionals in Japan.

According to her, Filipino nurses will be second-class professionals in Japan because under the terms being crafted by the Japan’s Ministry of Health and the Japanese Nursing Association (JNA), they are mere trainees for up to three years until they pass the national licensure exam written in Japanese, an examination that is routinely failed by half of the Japanese citizens who take it.

Dr. Paquiz also pointed out the well-known hostility of the Japanese Nursing Association (JNA) against the entry of Filipino nurses in Japan. The JNA’s official position is that the working conditions of Japanese nurses must first be improved before taking in Filipino nurses.

Dr. Paquiz said, “The insecurity of the status of our Filipina nurses under the JPEPA plus the hostility of the Japanese nurses to our presence there may conspire to gradually ease some of our nurses into sexual exploitation.”

“In the guise of opening up the Japanese labor market, JPEPA may actually be setting up our nurses for failure, discrimination and possible sexual exploitation,” Dr. Paquiz added.

Dr Paquiz was concerned that unscrupulous Japanese nightclubs may begin scouting for Filipina nurses to moonlight as sex workers under the JPEPA.

In 2005 Japan started to implement its Plan of Action to Combat Human Trafficking. Imposing stricter requirements for overseas performing artists (OPAs), including those who were before exploited and introduced to the Japanese sex industry, the implementation of the plan resulted in a drastic drop in the deployment of OPAS from a high of 74,480 by end of 2004 to a low of 42,586 in 2005 and only 10,615 by end of 2006.

“Our nurses have already sent huge amounts of remittances to prop up the Philippine economy,” Dr Paquiz said, “yet the government still has to implement existing laws that uphold the dignity and provide just compensation for our local nurses.”Dr Paquiz was referring to RA 9173 or the Nursing Act of 2002, which provides that no public health worker shall receive compensation below salary grade 15. Also, according to Dr Paquiz, RA 7135 or the Magna Carta for Public Health Workers, which uplifts the working conditions of Filipino nurses, is yet to be fully implemented fifteen years after its enactment.

Unfair trade

In the same press conference, Representative Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan said that a vital clue to the disadvantageous bargaining position of the Philippines in the negotiation of the JPEPA is that while Japan was able to exclude a total of 238 tariff lines, the Philippines only managed to exclude six.

“One major rationale for the Philippines entering into the JPEPA, upon which we have predicated our many trade concessions, “said Representative Hontiveros, “is the prospect of Japan opening up its labor force to our nurses. Now, even that one supposedly bright prospect is getting dimmer as the Japanese have begun erecting barriers to the entry of our nurses.”

Lawyer Tanya Lat of the Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services, Inc. (IDEALS) said that the JPEPA offers, at best, very minimal gains for the Philippines.”In exchange for the minimal, speculative and short-term gains,” Atty. Lat said, “the government bargained the long-term development of our economy.”

She added that the trumpeted inflows of investment under the JPEPA are speculative—given the unaddresssed issues that make the Philippines relatively an unattractive area for foreign direct investment—but the contraction of the Philippine agriculture sector, the displacement of farmers and the closure of local industries will be all real.”Our Constitution provides that we should pursue a trade policy that serves the general welfare and operates on the basis of equality and reciprocity,” said Atty Lat. “We deserve to be more than just a nation of beggars and servants panhandling for Japanese waste.”

Senate concurrence needed

The JPEPA, a preferential trade treaty signed in September 2006 by President Gloria Arroyo and then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Helsinki, will need to be ratified by the Senate. It is widely seen as the first test of the relationship between the Arroyo administration and the new Senate dominated by the opposition.

Several senators have already come out strongly against the JPEPA. Senator Loren Legarda said that “the benefits in the JPEPA are more apparent than real and largely ignorable if we are to compare it to the destruction of our environment… Without mincing words, this treaty should be sacked.”
Senator Pia Cayetano has also called instead on the Senate to ratify first the Basel Ban Amendment before discussing the JPEPA. “Ratifying the Basel Ban Amendment would provide greater protection to the Philippines from becoming a dumping ground for toxic wastes, not only from Japan, but also from other industrial countries,” she stressed.
The Basel Ban Amendment, a supplement to the Basel Convention, plugs the convention’s loopholes by prohibiting the practice of trading toxic waste for both disposal and recycling.

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