Press Release
April 18, 2023

OPENING STATEMENT Senate President Pro Tempore Loren B. Legarda
Senate Special Oversight Committee on Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
Sen. Padilla Room and via Cisco Webex
April 18, 2023, Tuesday, 10:00 a.m.

The hearing of the Senate Special Oversight Committee on Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is hereby CALLED TO ORDER.

Isang makabuluhang araw sa ating lahat.

Firstly, we would like to acknowledge the senators present:

First of all, my thanks to the Department of Trade and Industry as the lead convenor, and the agencies that participated in helping us prepare and present the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in plenary, which led to the concurrence of the Senate to the ratification of the trade agreement.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank, most especially, our stakeholders, and our partners representing different sectors, for raising issues and concerns which helped frame our resolution. With the creation of the Special Oversight Committee, we hope to address deficiencies and gaps in our governance, mobilize communities through bottom-up efforts, work to reduce scarcity toward productive efficiency, and determine effective utilization of our natural assets and our budgets. These are already mandates in public service, but what we intend to pursue by convening the Special Oversight Committee on RCEP is our delivery, ensuring the benefits of our resources and opportunities to vulnerable and marginalized sectors of society. Let us make sure that this is a rising tide to float all boats. That is only possible with integrity and single-minded determination to redirect agricultural policy in a people-centered, science-based, practical and corruption-free approach.

It was an arduous task as it was necessary that our goals and principles are given weight in giving our informed commitment. It was vital to communicate and consider differing or opposing views. We weighed the risks of RCEP vis-à-vis the benefits that it will bring to our people.

RCEP, as in any trade agreement, is essentially a step towards ensuring that a rules-based, transparent, and conducive business environment is promoted to ensure sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

Notwithstanding its promise and opportunity, we concurred in the ratification of the RCEP with guidelines to secure and enhance domestic productivity and economic growth and make our producers ready and able to join the markets this will open up. These guidelines are meant to address age-old issues besetting our agriculture sector.

We are weighed by issues such as P667.5 million worth of agriculture and fishery products being smuggled into the country, while the Bureau of Customs (BOC) seized P1.99 billion worth of agricultural products; the government's latest estimate of the number of families living in poverty as of March 2023 is 13.2 percent, up from 12.1 percent in 2018; as of the same period, the inflation rate is 7.6% percent; and as of February 2023, we have 4.8 percent unemployment rate, translating to 2.37 million unemployed Filipinos.

But beyond that, we have an opportunity to make this growth a sustainable one, with the direction of making our soils regain their natural fertility, our products diverse enough to cushion any market upsets, and our supply chains vibrant enough to benefit the very people that grow our food. In a changing climate and with biodiversity collapse, we cannot just do the same things better, we have to consciously bring the nation towards nature-based solutions, agriculture suited for the future we are facing.

We convene the Special Oversight Committee on RCEP with the fervent hope that, with our mandates and duties to perform, we ensure to work on measures and policies to protect the interest of our country and the people.

Now, I would like to request our Committee Secretary, Atty. Dana Alberto, to acknowledge our guests and resource persons.

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