Presidential bets urged to rethink trade liberalization

Presidential bets urged to rethink trade liberalization
By Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines — It’s probably a first in the history of local presidential forums.

With a stirring speech on what he called “one-sided, confusing and unfair” trade liberalization policies of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her predecessors, former Sen. Wigberto Tañada, clearly outshone his four guests at a forum his group hosted on Thursday in Club Filipino in San Juan City.

Tañada’s guests were among the so-called “bottom-dwellers” in the 10-man presidential derby – environmentalist Nicanor Perlas, Olongapo City Councilor JC de los Reyes, evangelist Bro. Eddie Villanueva, and Sen. Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal.

All of them agreed with the Fair Trade Alliance convenor’s assertions that the government’s economic policies “for over three decades” were anything but ideal.

In his opening remarks, Tañada, also a former Quezon legislator, described the government’s economic policies as “narrow and accelerated.”

“As a result, many of our industries are dying because the business playing field has been unfair or discriminatory against them. Not only that, our policy makers have allowed smuggling to proliferate. They have also cast a blind eye on foreign dumping and liberalized our tariff system ahead of other countries,” he said.

The ex-Liberal Party president said “by continuing to open up the country’s economy too fast and reducing our tariffs way below those other countries, we made a big mistake.”

“It was erroneous for our leaders to believe that faster liberalization necessarily meant faster growth, more investments, more jobs, and better lives for our people. But it has not worked that way, and worse, it continues to work to our disadvantage,” he noted.

Thus, “unemployment is on the rise and so with underemployment. Not surprisingly, the industrial sector is stagnant and declining while the agricultural sector remains backward and un-modernized.”

“Clearly, the Philippines cannot continue along this direction. The (same economic policies) must now be changed,” he stressed.

Tañada said his group has not been against liberalization per se. “But we believe that it must be done when a country is ready. It must not be rushed,” he said.

“It matters to us a lot who sits in Malacañang, for our next leader must have the political will to implement these bold economic and trade reforms that will clearly represent a break from these accelerated, one-sided, confusing and unfair liberalization policies,” he added.

Perlas said he was in “total agreement” with Tañada’s agenda.

Like Madrigal, he called for the dismantling of local and foreign business monopolies and cartels, as well as reverse free market policies imposed by the likes of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization.

What the country needs is a “new economy that is fair, sustainable and green,” according to Perlas.

De los Reyes admitted he was “not an expert in globalization, neo-liberal thinking and trade.”

But he said, “up to now, we’re still fighting some unfair trade practices (of some foreign business groups).”

Villanueva discussed his Bangon Pilipinas party’s “blueprint of development,” which called for, among others, the need to “energize the economy.”

He stressed the need to “level the playing field for all and not a favored few” in the business sector, adopt what he termed “self-help first (business) policy before securing foreign assistance,” and addressing the budget deficit through debt moratorium.

For her part, Madrigal urged the nation to “commit ourselves to a genuine people’s nationalism, a Philippines controlled by Filipinos, a pro-Filipino society enjoyed by the majority and not just a few local partners of foreign big business.”

“We should not be mere agents of reforms that merely perpetuate the free trade system led by foreign capitalists only to favor a new set of cronies. We should be advocates of economic policies that benefit the majority instead of an economic and political oligarchy,” she said.

The ProPinoy Project