Wednesday, August 27, 2008

RP-China agreements probed for legal, constitutional infirmities

Committee News: house of Representatives of the Philippines
* A Publication of the Committee Affairs Department

Committee Source: AGRICULTURE & FOOD

LAWMAKERS representing the marginalized sectors of society were one in urging Congress to conduct a comprehensive review of the various lease and agribusiness agreements recently entered into by the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China.

Fighting to uphold and protect the national interest in general and the rights of the small farmers in particular, Party List Representatives Ana Theresia Hontiveros-Baraquiel (AKBAYAN), Crispin Beltran (ANAKPAWIS), Satur Ocampo and Teodoro CasiƱo (BAYAN MUNA), and Liza Largoza-Maza and Luzviminda Ilagan (GABRIELA) filed House Resolutions 79, 224 and 237, respectively.

Upon receipt of the measures, the Committee on Agriculture and Food, together with the Committee on Agrarian Reform, under the leadership of Rep. Abraham Kahlil Mitra (2nd District, Palawan) and Rep. Elias Bulut Jr. (Lone District, Apayao) respectively, started its inquiry into the alleged anomalous bilateral agreements made between the Philippine government through the Departments of Agriculture (DA), Agrarian Reform (DAR) and Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and China and some private Chinese corporations.

The authors of the resolutions expressed concern on the contracts’ serious implications on food security, economic stability and the over-all national sovereignty of the country.

They also found the agreements wanting for “transparency” and “reciprocity” as they will only be beneficial to the interest of China to the detriment of the Filipino people.

These agreements, Rep. Hontiveros-Baraquel presented, pose serious threat to the country’s agrarian reform program citing one contract which allowed the lease of one million hectares of land to a Chinese corporation for twenty five years without specifying the nature of these lands.

In addition, she said, the produce of these lands are to be exported to China “rendering our food supply vulnerable.”

As presented in Rep. Beltran’s HR 224, there were 31 Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs) signed between the Philippine government and China and some private Chinese corporations. These will promote bilateral trade and development in agricultural, fisheries and food products according to the government.

Quoting a position paper of the Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS) Inc., HR 224 stated that the 31 RP-China agreements cover a broad range of obligations, which include questionable financial grants and concession loans, the removal of some protective barriers on trade, a 25-year lease of more than one million hectares of agricultural lands whose produce will be exported to China, and the utilization of lands for bio-fuel production intended for China’s consumption.

Arnel Mateo, who represented IDEALS during the hearing, expressed objection to the agreements. He noted that the lack of transparency, consultation and people’s participation are the reasons why these contracts are perceived as anomalous.

The lease of one million hectares of land to the Fuhua Co., Mateo said, will effectively disenfranchise farmers and farm workers tilling these lands which directly violate the principles of agrarian reform.

This contract, he added, is also in direct violation of the 1987 Constitutional provision on patrimony which stipulates that no foreign-owned corporations can lease agricultural lands of the public domain exceeding one thousand hectares.

The pertinent provision in the Constitution (Section 3, Article 12) reads “Alienable lands of the public domain shall be limited to agricultural lands. Private corporations or associations may not hold such alienable lands of the public domain except by lease, for a period not exceeding 25 years, renewable for not more than 25 years, and not to exceed 1,000 hectares in area.”

Mateo opined that this venture should only serve as an interim measure to arrest poverty until such time that farmers have acquired the necessary skills to cultivate the lands on their own and not for 25 years.

Another point raised by IDEAL concerns the protection and conservation of the country’s marine resources as well as the livelihood of small fishers.

These agreements, Mateo read, “alter the policy framework of the government where land and marine resources are protected for Filipinos, domestic industries are nurtured, agrarian reform is of the highest order, and food security is primordial.”

Concealed from the

Rep. Hontiveros-Baraquel also questioned the involvement of the three executive departments known as “DA-DAR-DENR Convergence” in the agreements.

She disclosed that the agencies involved concealed the contents of the agreements from the public in the guise of private contracts beyond the ambit of the Constitutional requirement of disclosure.

On the other hand, DA Undersecretary Bernie Fondevilla stated that the agency is willing to cancel all the agreements it entered into if verified unconstitutional.

He added that the concerns raised will not fall on deaf ears but will be tackled in a consultative meeting with their Chinese counterparts this month.

Not listed in SEC

Suspicions of corruption arose when three of the seven local corporations involved in the RP-China agreement were not found under the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) listing of registered companies or corporations, observed Rep. Teofisto Guingona III (2nd District, Bukidnon).

The corporations named were the B.M. SB Integrated Biofuels Company, the Negros Southern Integrated Biofuels Company, and the Philippine Marine Technology Group Inc.

The Chair questioned the legality of the said corporations’ creation and incorporation two months after the signing of the MOA.

Upon learning that grains produced on Philippine soil will be exported to China, Rep. Justin Marc Chipeco (2nd District, Laguna) proposed that the particular MOA be revised so that part of the produce will remain in the country for consumption by the Filipinos.

Rep. Pryde Henry Teves (3rd District, Negros Oriental) suggested that the government adopt China’s rice production technology as well as the method of planting known as “Alturas” which is being practiced by Chinese folks in Bohol.

The Committee decided to continue the investigation at a later date.

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