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Japan-Philippine FTA looks doomed in Philippine Senate.

MANILA, Oct. 8 Kyodo

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's campaign to persuade the Philippine Senate to ratify a landmark free trade agreement with Japan is looking increasingly hopeless, a lawmaker admitted Monday.

Miriam Santiago, chair of the Senate committee conducting a public hearing on the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement, said the Senate will likely send the treaty back to the executive for renegotiation because it is ''riddled with constitutional defects.''

Santiago invited a panel of constitutional experts during a public hearing Monday who argued the treaty may be ''unconstitutional on several grounds.''

''Virtually, if we go by the objective of analysis of these independent experts, the JPEPA is dead,'' Santiago said.

Santiago added: ''What we can do in this case is send back the treaty to the Executive Branch...for renegotiation, for amendment or additions or exclusions.''

Quoting the experts, Santiago voiced concern the JPEPA as it now stands might violate the ''nationality provisions'' of the Philippine Constitution wherein certain areas of business, trade and industry are reserved for Filipino citizens or only for corporations controlled by Filipinos.

She also cited a Supreme Court ruling on the need for the government to comply with provisions in the Constitution on the protection of the environment.

''That's the problem. It's not only one ground that you can discuss but several of them,'' she said. ''If you don't get it declared unconstitutional on one ground or one provision, there are still several other provisions you have to contend with. That's why I am very, very worried about the fate of JPEPA, even at committee level only.''

Santiago, an Arroyo ally in the Senate, said she ''dreaded'' the thought of the treaty as it now stands reaching the Senate floor.

''The majority in the Senate belongs to the opposition, and the series of (committee) hearings have provided the opposition senators very strong ammunition,'' she said.

Opposition Sen. Mar Roxas shared Santiago's observation, saying ''It's possible that we recommend that it be renegotiated.''

He too said it was ''replete with constitutional infirmities that would be indefensible.''

Arroyo's team launched in August a high-profile public relations blitz to urge the Senate to ratify JPEPA, but that move has apparently failed.

To give impetus to the JPEPA, Arroyo created an inter-agency task force Sept. 28 that was to ''act with resolve and urgency'' for ratification.

Santiago's committee has held five hearings to discuss the benefits and disadvantages of the treaty that would eliminate tariffs on all goods and services traded between the two countries.

As far as Santiago is concerned, however, the issue of constitutionality ''is the most basic, fundamental priority in all these hearings.''

The Senate must concur or reject the accord, which was concluded on Sept. 9 last year, for it to come into effect.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:Oct 13, 2007
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