The Legarda legacy and RCEP | Inquirer Business

The Legarda legacy and RCEP

Will Sen. Loren Legarda include in her legacy, which includes good governance and environment protection, the critical role of championing agriculture in international trade agreements? This is the question that will be answered as Legarda chairs the Senate subcommittee on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Last Sept. 7, at the start of the Senate hearing, Legarda said she was not certain whether she would continue chairing the RCEP subcommittee.

Agriculture-related organizations, totaling 131, had signed a position paper rejecting RCEP. Several industry and service organizations had also submitted positions in support of RCEP.


At the hearing, two presentations were given. One was presented by the Federation of Free Farmers focusing on why RCEP posed dangers to agriculture and debunking myths showing agriculture as detrimental to national welfare. One such myth was that farmers and fisherfolk have been getting too much protection. On the contrary, they have been neglected—and even abused.


An example is that upon Philippine accession to the World Trade Organization, the government’s promised enabling measures to globally compete were not provided. The result was the deterioration of our agriculture. Ratifying RCEP without taking necessary measures will make matters worse for us.

The second presentation was given by the Alyansa Agrikultura (AA), in behalf of AgriFisheries Alliance (AFA). The latter is composed of three major agriculture-related coalitions: AA represents farmers and fisherfolk; Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Fisheries Inc. represents agribusiness with its 42 subsectors; Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines represents science and the academe.


The presentation identified three conditionalities (first introduced in January last year) that they said had to be met before RCEP is ratified. Hardly anything has been done on these conditionalities:

First, there will be more imports with RCEP. Our border controls are extremely inadequate and must be strengthened via antismuggling, quarantine and food and safety measures. Second, since the Department of Agriculture (DA) budget is necessary to enable our agriculture to be globally competitive, the already inadequate amount should not be squandered through waste and corruption.

For these two conditionalities to be met, restoring oversight committees, which will involve private sector participation, is a must.

Third, the DA should identify threats to agriculture and take action via corresponding measures.


Since nothing has been offered on the third conditionality, AFA identified the following during the hearing as necessary: 1) a market information network legally mandated (but not implemented) in the 1997 Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act to enable effective planning and implementation; 2) a plan and budget to consolidate our average 1.5-hectare farm holdings in order to achieve economies of scale; and 3) at least a one-year specific program for our most vulnerable sectors using effective road maps to ensure needed action.


Legarda proposed to include specific guidelines addressing these valid issues as an integral part of the RCEP process. Furthermore, she said she would insist on a special oversight committee on RCEP that would meet quarterly to monitor compliance to these guidelines.

The chair of the Senate committee also had to be a member, so that noncomplying agencies would suffer severe budget cuts.

Most importantly, Legarda wants leaders of farmers, fisherfolk and other agriculture stakeholders to actively participate both in the formation and monitoring of these guidelines.

If the Senate does not approve these proposals, Legarda said she would resign from her current committee chair position.

This is a welcome development. In the following months, history will judge if the Legarda legacy will include championing agriculture in international trade agreements. Agriculture badly needs a champion today.

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Author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of Presidentail Flagship Programs and Projects, and former undersecretary of of the Department of Agriculture and Department of Trade. Contact is [email protected].

TAGS: column, Commentary, Loren Legarda, RCEP

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