Merica Francine Dela Rosa
Secretary for Trade and Industry, Ramon Lopez, holding the RCEP Agreement signed on November 2020 at the Asean Summit in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of The Asean Post.
The Philippine Senate ratified the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with an overwhelming majority vote of 20-1-1, on Tuesday, February 21, 2023,
Senator President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda proposed to ratify the RCEP through Senate Resolution No. 485. Only Senator Risa Hontiveros voted against the Resolution, while Senator Imee Marcos abstained.
The RCEP is a regional and the world's largest free trade agreement that intends to further liberalize trade in services and goods by improving investment rules between ASEAN member countries (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and free trade agreement partners (Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea).
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. listed the RCEP as one of his priority bills. In an interview last Feb. 12, he said that while he does not have influence on the RCEP's approval, he believes and supports that the country would benefit from being a part of this Trade agreement, particularly in the agricultural sector.
“The reason that I talked about RCEP is because I am quite confident na malapit na mapasa ‘yan.” President Marcos Jr. states.
The President's economic managers pushed hard amidst opposition from agriculture groups who fear that a flood of imported goods would displace local producers, despite Zubiri's prediction of generating 1.4 million jobs for Filipinos.
Hontiveros explains her vote by saying she is unconvinced the RCEP would benefit the country and would not increase the risk to public health. She also states 131 organizations representing farmers, fishermen, trade unions, health, and fair trade advocates across the country were unprepared for this agreement.
“These represent millions of Filipinos who say that our country is not ready for this deal, that we already obtain the benefits from our other agreements, and that we even stand to lose. The calculations for me are simple, Mr. President. Our agriculture is down. We have not recovered from the pandemic. This is not the time for RCEP,” Hontiveros says.
Imee Marcos also states she abstained from voting because she was thinking about the effect of RCEP on the farmers.
“I would like to stress that my worry is brought by my principle, not because I’m the sister of someone powerful, but because of my father’s legacy which is to prioritize the marginalized — farmers and the needy,” she says.
“Allow me to abstain from voting, not because I am avoiding my duty, but because until now, most of those in the farms and fields are frustrated,” Imee says.
Despite the proposed benefits, at least 100 groups petitioned the Senate to oppose the RCEP, claiming that the lives and welfare of millions of farmers, fishers, workers, and other stakeholders are at stake in this resolution.
The Philippines is the last country to join the RCEP.