PASAY CITYDepartment of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Fred Pascual, Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo, and Assistant Secretary Allan B. Gepty expressed their utmost appreciation to the Philippine Senate for concurring with the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) on 21 February 2023.   

With 20 senators voting for the concurrence, the Philippines is now set to participate in the largest free trade area. 

“We laud the Philippine Senate for its prompt action on this very important treaty. This gives a strong signal to our trading partners as to the trade policy direction of the country, and the resolve of the present administration to provide a conducive business environment for potential investors”, said Secretary Pascual. 

During the plenary deliberation, no less than Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri and Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda defended the concurrence of the Senate. 

“Indeed, Senators Zubiri and Legarda excellently argued the merits of the RCEP Agreement and showed why the Philippines could not afford not to be part of it. One of the most critical reasons is that if we refuse to participate, businesses and investors may relocate in other countries that are already participating in RCEP. This means we will be at a disadvantaged position in ASEAN”, the Trade Chief added. 

Senator Legarda emphasized the need to support the agriculture sector, stressing that RCEP itself is a tool that needs to be utilized by Filipino businesses in order for gains to materialize. 

“There is nothing wrong with RCEP, it is smuggling, lack of support of agriculture,” she stated, in response to concerns that the agriculture sector will be adversely affected by RCEP. “This is not a magic pill. RCEP or no RCEP, we must help these sectors,” she added. 

Meanwhile, Senator Zubiri stressed the need for a holistic approach to RCEP, stating that the government should also take into account the welfare of other sectors of the economy. 

“Whether we have RCEP or not, the agri sector, in its state right now is suffering. Let’s say we don’t ratify RCEP, I think it will still be suffering but the thing is manufacturing will also be suffering, exports will also suffer. In the totality of things, I am not just standing as an agriculturalist, but I am also standing as a Senator of the Republic, we also have other constituencies to protect, so we are looking at the totality of it all,” Zubiri said. 

According to Secretary Pascual, he commends the two senators not only for their sterling defense of RCEP but also for their creative approach in handling the issues and concerns raised by oppositors. 

Further, under the Resolution of the Senate concurring on the ratification of the RCEP Agreement, a Senate oversight committee was created to ensure the effective implementation of programs intended to improve the competitiveness of local stakeholders, especially farmers. 

For its part, the Executive Department showed its full support during the interpellation. Present during the deliberation were Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, Special Assistant to the President Antonio Lagdameo Jr., Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman, Customs Commissioner Bienvenido Rubio, Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Carlos Sorreta, Labor and Employment Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma, Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban, and National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio Balisacan.

The Agreement will be effective for the Philippines 60 days after the submission of the country’s Instrument of Ratification (IOR) to the ASEAN Secretary General as the Depositary. *

Date of release: 22 February 2023