Senate Ratifies Japan Agreement

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The Senate on Wednesday night ratified the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) with 16 senators concurring in its ratification. Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago said she expects the bilateral agreement to take effect after a month following an exchange of letters between the two countries' foreign ministers.

"The two foreign ministers will send letters to each other with information that the constitutional processes of the country have been complied with, and once that is exchanged between them, the treaty goes into effect," Santiago, chairwoman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said.

"We'll be imposing near zero tariffs on almost 95 percent of all our imports from Japan," she said.

Santiago, principal sponsor of the economic treaty, said she is certain that the JPEPA, "despite its flaws" will pass the test of constitutionality because it has been modified by the exchange of notes between the two governments.

"Under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, an exchange of notes, if so intended, is in itself a treaty binding on the parties. The Senate resolution of concurrence provides that concurrence is conditioned on the exchange of notes," she said.

Thus, if the Supreme Court finds it unconstitutional and issues a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the treaty, under international law, Japan would have the right to seek damages before an international court.

"If the SC issues a TRO, that will certainly bind the Philippine government but will it bind the Japanese government? So it will be a question of whether the SC will stop a treaty, which will be executory at a certain point in time. And normally the government must not do that because another state party is involved. It is not just Filipinos litigating among themselves; there is another sovereign state involved," Santiago said.

"Wavering senators who could not make up their mind were deeply worried on whether JPEPA is constitutional. I was able to assure them that with the written exchange of notes, if this treaty is attacked in the SC, the (Philippine) government will win this case," she said.

Santiago refuted allegations that they railroaded the treaty's ratification in the Senate.

"If we didn't pass it last night then we would've been accused of inaction because the JPEPA has been with the Senate for at least one year. It was endorsed to the Senate by President Arroyo in August, 2007, and it is now October, 2008 --more than a year in fact," Senator Santiago said.

"Part of the delay was caused by the request of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs to suspend proceedings in the Senate until after tour executive branch--the office of the President--would have negotiated an exchange of notes with the Japanese negotiator."

Senators who voted "yes" on the JPEPA were Senate President Manuel Villar Jr., Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan Senate President Protempore Jose Estrada, Edgardo J. Angara, Rodolfo Biazon, Alan Peter Cayetano, Miriam Santiago, Juan Ponce Enrile, Richard Gordon, Gregorio Honasan, Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda, Ramon Revilla Jr, Manuel Roxas II, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Manuel Lapid, and Miriam Santiago.

Five senators voted against the pact. They are Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Senators Francis Escudero, Benigno Aquino III, Ma. Consuelo "Jamby" Madrigal, and Pilar Juliana Cayetano.

Senators Joker Arroyo and Pia Cayetano were absent during the voting, but Cayetano later submitted her negative vote in a manifestation sent to the committee.

Pangilinan, who cast a positive vote but with reservations, said that next year, he will file a resolution asking the Office of the President to renegotiate the JPEPA in order to amend it, by incorporating the three proposals made by Santiago. …