April 27, 2014

Defending economic sovereignty

As the visit of US President Obama to Manila looms closer, both the Philippine and US governments are drumbeating the signing of the apparently more palatable Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) as a high point while keeping mum about Obama’s equally important and urgent agenda such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and its prerequisite “Charter change” (Cha-cha).

The US pivot to Asia, which is the raison d’etre for the entire visit, is after all not just about shifting its military weight closer to China. It also involves repairing and reinforcing its economic and political alliances in the region and creating more favorable conditions for furthering the neoliberal agenda to mitigate, if not arrest its own deep crisis and overall decline.

The TPPA has been kept under tight wraps even as the US, the dominant player among 12 countries (Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Chile, Canada, Mexico and Peru) has pushed hard to reach a “consensus” that has eluded negotiations thus far. 

A series of leaked TPPA draft documents by Wikileaks shows why.

According to the International League of Peoples’ Struggles (ILPS), controversies are triggered by “clauses that favor US monopoly control and undermine governmental processes” of other member-countries. “The TPPA’s main provisions are expected to require member-countries to remove any remaining barriers to investments, to strictly enforce intellectual property laws that would raise pharmaceutical costs and stifle digital innovation and freedom of expression, and to allow private corporations to sue states before an international tribunal. In effect, countries joining the TPPA will have to surrender big chunks of their national sovereignty to the trade pact’s imperialist masterminds.”

The Philippines is not yet a TPPA negotiating member state and this is where Cha-cha comes in. 
While it is true that the renewed push for Cha-cha originated in the Lower House of Congress, it is a fact that the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in the Philippines (JFC) led by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) and US government agencies like the Office of US Trade Representative (USTR), the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the US embassy in the Philippines have bankrolled and engineered a sustained lobby for pro-foreign big business policy reforms through Charter amendments, various legislation and executive issuances.

The AmCham manages the USAID-funded and unabashed pro-TPPA The Arangkada Philippines Project (TAPP) that “advocates” 471 neoliberal policy recommendations that promote the interests of foreign corporations in the country through greater liberalization, deregulation, privatization and denationalization while undermining the national economy, facilitating greater plunder of the national patrimony and intensifying the attack on the people’s rights and welfare.   Accordingly, all the remaining protectionist provisions of the Philippine Constitution are identified as disincentives to foreign capital that must be “bypassed, reformed, revised or removed”. 

The Partnership for Growth initiative entered into by the US and the Philippines explicitly aims to give “support for trade and investment-related policy reforms needed to improve Philippine readiness to qualify for entry into... The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.”

In a Forum on PH-US relations in Washington D.C., August 2011, former US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. is quoted as saying, “[The Philippines has] to change laws, issue executive orders and frankly, introduce amendments to the Constitution” in order to join the TPPA.

IBON Foundation recently exposed more external pressurecoming from the Office of US Trade Representative (USTR).  In its National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers (2014) the USTR “identified 30% constitutional limit on foreign ownership in advertising; 40% limit on foreign investment in the operation and management of public utilities (water and sewage treatment, electricity distribution and transmission, telecommunications, and transportation); ban on foreigners to practice law, medicine, nursing, accountancy, engineering, architecture and customs brokerage; and restrictions on foreign ownership of land as among the barriers to trade being implemented by the Philippines.”

Foreign investors calling for Cha-cha find their strongest allies in their domestic partners in the local big business community who wield formidable clout over economic policy makers, implementers and arbiters in government, e.g. the Makati Business Club (MBC), Employers’ Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP), Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), Alyansa Agrikultura, Philippine Exporters Confederation (PHILEXPORT), Management Association of the Philippines (MAP).

The unholy alliance between foreign and local big business interests (underpinned by government support) is the real juggernaut behind the House of Representatives’ Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 1 aka Cha-cha.   It will have to be met and foiled by the broad unity and mass resistance by those classes and sectors in Philippine society who have most to lose in the unbridled entry and domination by  foreign capital of the Philippine economy.

In the agricultural sector, the land-hungry peasants and farm workers and the indigenous peoples robbed of their ancestral lands will lead the fight against further liberalizing foreign ownership and utilization of alienable land.  Massive land grabbing, unchecked land use conversion and forced displacement of rural folk to give way to mining, agri-business, commercial and tourism projects as well as government “development” projects are bound to worsen as a consequence of Cha-cha.  Attendant socio-economic problems - malnutrition, poverty, disease and criminality - will surely be aggravated not just in the countryside but in urban areas where the displaced rural population spill over seeking jobs and other livelihood opportunities. 

Chronic unemployment and underemployment and inhuman work conditions for the rest of the population also looms with Cha-cha.  The neoliberal policies to be enshrined in the Constitution translate into a domestic economy continuously kept backward by feudal land tenure relations, the lack of an industrial base and the unbridled exploitation of its natural resources.  It cannot generate the jobs, productive enterprises and social wealth that can sustain a bourgeoning population nearing the hundred million mark.  The class divide between the miniscule elite and the masses including the sinking middle class is bound to grow and generate more social disorder, discontent and conflicts, while the state increasingly resorts to force to suppress resistance and dissent 

The workers and urban poor in alliance with the middle forces of fixed income employees, small and medium entrepreneurs and patriotic business persons must awaken to the dangers of Cha-cha to their lives and livelihood and join the rural folk in their fervid opposition.

Nationalists and patriots among the intelligentsia - students and teachers, mass media practitioners, professionals, and artists - must join hands to prevent foreign big business interests from capturing, controlling and dominating educational, mass media and other cultural outlets through the expediency of Cha-cha.

The people’s broad and determined opposition both to the RP-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and the Cha-cha/TPPA cannot be underestimated.  #

Published in Business World
25 April 2014


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