Last November 2021, during the 18th Congress, various farmers, fishers, workers, civil society, and private sector organizations expressed their opposition to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free trade agreement. At that time, we urged the Senate to withhold its concurrence with the treaty until the necessary policies, strategies, and programs are emplaced so that the RCEP benefits, and does not harm, the agricultural sector and the economy as a whole.
We pointed out that agriculture provides 25% of all jobs. Together with agribusiness, it accounts for 35% of our Gross Domestic Product. At least 50% of Filipinos depend directly or indirectly on the sector. Also, most poor Filipinos are in rural areas.
Clearly, the promised gains from trade liberalization — following our membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 and subsequent regional and bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) — have not materialized. Our trade performance has actually deteriorated. Our agricultural trade deficit has ballooned to nearly nine billion US dollars annually. Exports have not significantly expanded beyond traditional items like banana, pineapple, and coconut-based products. Meanwhile, our capacity to supply foreign markets with competitive products has paled in comparison to our neighbors. In turn, we have become a dumping ground for imports of practically all agricultural commodities – rice, corn, pork, chicken, fish, salt, onions, garlic, mung bean, peanuts, etc.
RCEP proponents claim that we have not made any major commitments in agriculture beyond those already found in existing FTAs. They add that sensitive products like rice, meats, vegetables, and corn are exempted from tariff reduction. Hence, they conclude, there is nothing in RCEP to worry about.
In fact, what they mean is that things will probably not get any worse.
That is of little consolation to the agricultural sector. Recently, we have seen big supply gaps and price spikes in sugar, onions, rice, and eggs. Things could worsen unless we act resolutely and fix the ills plaguing agriculture. More so, if our competitors in the region – in contrast to our complacency – continue to innovate and displace us in markets here and abroad.
Dire warnings about the cost of not joining RCEP are exaggerated, if not imagined. Almost all the trade concessions offered by our trading partners under RCEP will remain available to us through our existing FTAs with them, either directly or through ASEAN. Foreign investors who locate their businesses in the country will continue enjoying these preferential arrangements, even if we are outside RCEP.
New trade or market access opportunities – if any – under RCEP cover a tiny percentage of our agricultural tariff lines and trade value. They also offer minimal tariff cuts, most of which will be phased over as long as twenty years. Moreover, there is no guarantee of their benefit to us, because other RCEP member countries will enjoy the same privileges. They will be the gainers, and we will be the losers if they are more competitive than us.
For industry, as with agriculture, there is a real danger of imports displacing our local output – since RCEP will eliminate tariffs on 93% of our industrial tariff lines. This could result in massive job losses and bankruptcies of small and medium-scale enterprises.
RCEP advocates insist that the trade treaty by itself is good, and that concerns about our readiness to compete should be addressed separately. For us in the agricultural sector who have experienced many broken promises of support, this proposition is unacceptable.
The proponents of RCEP had one year to engage the agri-fisheries sector to attain a mutual understanding on why our commitments under WTO and past FTAs have not worked for us. Yet, they made no serious effort to dialogue meaningfully to avoid past mistakes and to achieve real progress. This shows that the executive is taking our concerns lightly. Nor does it have a credible plan for mitigating threats and maximizing opportunities in RCEP. What has been submitted to the Senate is a wish list of programs that have been on file for many years now, and which — given our worsening trade performance — have clearly failed to address the weaknesses of the agricultural sector and improve its competitiveness.
Last May 2022, President-elect Bongbong Marcos declared his intention to ensure the sector’s preparedness before pushing for Philippine membership in RCEP.
Under these circumstances, it will be foolhardy to dive into the RCEP bandwagon. Let us not put the cart before the horse. The lives and welfare of millions of farmers, fishers, workers, and other stakeholders are at stake!
We, therefore, urge our esteemed Senators to vote NO to RCEP!
31 January 2023
1) Nicanor Briones, President, Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines, Inc.(AGAP)
2) Noel Salazar, Acting Director, AGRO-ECO Philippines
3) Jon Buan, President, Agro-Planters Association, Pampanga
4) Ariel G. Guides, President, Altertrade Philippines Foundation for Food Sovereignty, Inc.
5) Arsenio Tanchuling, Chairman, Alyansa Agrikultura
6) Rafael Mariano, Chairperson, ANAKPAWIS Party-List
7) Fernando Llorera, President, Aniban ng mga Magsasaka. Mangingisda at Manggagawa
sa Agrikultura (AMMMA-Katipunan)
8) Rene Cruz, National President, Aniban ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (AMA)
9) Cathy Estavillo, Spokesperson, Bantay Bigas
10) Pablito Sandoval, Director, Batangas Integrated Sugar Planters Multi-Purpose
11) Randy Megu, President, BIGKIS ng Mangingisda
12) Cecilia Chavez-Custodio, Chairperson, BUTIL Farmers Party
13) Romeo Royandoyan, Executive Director, Centro Saka, Inc. (Philippine Center for Rural
14) Teodoro C. Mendoza, Science Director, and Zelda Soriano, Legal Director, Community
Legal Help and Policy Center, Philippines
15) Benedicta Suazo Angeles, President, and Charles R. Avila, Executive Director,
CONFEDeration of Coconut Farmers Organizations of the Philippines
16) Aurelio Gerardo Valderrama, Jr., President, Confederation of Sugarcane Farmers
17) Benjie de la Cruz, National President, Congress of Independent Organizations (CIO)
18) Essex Ramones Lara, Board Chairperson, CREDO Savings and Agrarian Reform
Cooperative, Tuguegarao City, Cagayan
19) Mars Mendoza, Executive Director, Fair Trade Alliance
20) Rafael P. Sarucam. National President, Federation of Coconut Farmers and Farm
Workers Associations, Inc.
21) Ramon Canastre, Jr., Chairman, Federation of Free Farmers Cooperatives
22) Dioscoro A. Granada, President, Federation of Free Farmers (FFF)
23) Jose Sonny G. Matula, President, Federation of Free Workers (FFW)
24) Joseph Purugganan, Head of the Philippine Office, Focus on the Global South
25) Rene Ofreneo, President, Freedom from Debt Coalition
26) Victoria M. Segovia, Member, Board of Trustees, Green Convergence
27) Lea Guerrero, Country Director, Greenpeace Philippines
28) Jose Enrique Africa, Executive Director, IBON Foundation
29) Joseph de Jesus, Coordinator, In Defense of Human /Rights and Dignity Movement
30) Arze Glipo, Executive Director, Integrated Rural Development Foundation
31) Renato Magtubo, Spokesperson, Nagkaisa Labor Coaliton
32) David T. Santos, Chief Executive Officer, Ka Tribu ug ang Lasang Foundation (The
Tribe and the Forest Foundation)
33) Anthony Marzan, Executive Director, Kaisahan tungo sa Kaunlaran ng Kanayunan at
Repormang Pansakahan, Inc. (KAISAHAN)
34) Edna A. Yurong, National President, Kalipunan ng mga Maliliit na Magniniyog ng
Pilipinas (KAMMPIL National Federation)
35) Roy M. Ribo, Chairperson, KAMMPILAGRICOOP
36) Trinidad Domingo, Chairperson, Katipunan ng Bagong Pilipina
37) Danny Carranza, Secretary General, Kilusan para sa Repormang Agraryo at
38) Danilo Ramos, Chairperson, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)
39) Ruen “Kokoy” Gan, National President, Kongreso ng Pagkakaisa ng Maralitang Lungsod
40) CJ Castillo, Program Coordinator, Labor Education and Research Network
41) Mario Balason, Secretary-General, Lake Taal Aquaculture Association, Inc.
42) Charles R. Avila, Chairperson, Lay Society of St. Arnold Janssen
43) Rommel C. Arnado, President, League of Organic Agriculture Municipalities and Cities
44) Arnel Toreja, President, Luzon Federation of Sugarcane Growers Associations
45) Argel Joseph Cabatbat, Chairperson, Magkakasama sa Sakahan, Kaunlaran
46) Alfie Palumbarit, National Coordinator, Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pagunlad ng
47) Anthony John Demisana, General Secretary, NACUSIP Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries
48) Ricky de la Cruz, President, Nagkakaisang Magsasaka ng Gitnang Luzon
49) Eduardo Mora, Sectoral Representative, National Anti-Poverty Commission – Farmers
and Landless Rural Workers Sectoral Council
50) Roland de la Cruz, President, National Congress of Unions in the Sugar Industry of the
51) Chester Warren Tan, President, National Federation of Hog Farmers, Inc.
52) Zenaida Soriano, National Chairperson, National Federation of Peasant Women
53) John Milton Lozande, Secretary-General, National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW)
54) Enrique D. Rojas, President, National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, Inc. (NFSP)
55) Elvira Quintela, National Coordinator, National Food Coalition
56) Rodolfo M. Capoquian, President, National Trade Union Center-Philippines (NTUCPhl)
57) Marlon Gamboa, President, North Cluster Planters Association of Tarlac
58) Pablo Rosales, President, Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Mangingisda
59) Eduardo Mora, Chairperson, Pambansang Kaisahan ng mga Magbubukid sa Pilipinas
60) Felix Pascua, Spokesperson, Pambansang Katipunan ng Makabayang Magbubukid
61) Ruperto B. Aleroza, Chairperson, Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa
62) Herminio Agsaluna, National President, Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang
63) Janel Geconcillo, President, Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan
64) Danilo A. Abelita, President, Panay Federation of Sugarcane Farmers, Inc. (PanayFed)
65) Sonny Melencio, Chairperson, Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM)
66) Aurea Miclat-Teves, President, People’s Development Institute
67) Joan Cristales, National Vice-President (Visayas), Philippine Agricultural, Commercial,
Industrial Workers Union (PACIWU)
68) Joji Co, President, Philippine Confederation of Grains Associations
69) Roger Navarro, President, Philippine Maize Federation
70) Marlon Palomo, Executive Director, Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement
71) Mary Ann P. Sayoc, President, Philippine Seed Industry Association (PSIA)
72) Saturnino Distor, President, Philippine Tobacco Growers Association
73) Rolando Tambago, President, Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines, Inc.
74) Hazel Tanchuling, Executive Director, Rice Watch Action Network
75) Rosendo So, President, and Jayson Cainglet, Executive Director, Samahang Industriya ng
76) Jun Cruz, National President, Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas (LAIKO)
77) Judith C. Ebalor, Chairperson, Save Candelaria Zambales Movement, Inc.
78) Josua Mata, Secretary-General, Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa
79) Vic I. Tagupa , President, Sustainable Agriculture Family-centered Entrepreneurial
Group of Co-Creators Inc.
80) Mario Descallar, President, and Jesus Las Marias, Chief – Media Relations, System of Rice
81) Dinna Umengan, Executive Director, Tambuyog Development Center
82) Tony Salvador, Lawyer, Third World Network
83) Ana Maria R. Nemenzo, Co-Convenor, Trade Justice Pilipinas
84) Asis Perez and Norberto Chingcuanco, Convenors, Tugon Kabuhayan
85) Elias Jose M. Inciong, President, United Broiler Raisers Association (UBRA)
86) Manuel Lamata, President, United Sugar Producers Federation (UNIFED)
87) Ariel Casilao, Acting National Chairperson, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura
88) Dante Lazatin, President, Upper Pampanga-River Integrated Irrigation System
Confederation of Farmers Irrigators Associations
89) Ana Maria R. Nemenzo, WomanHealth Philippines
90) Jelen Paclarin, Executive Director, Women’s Legal, and Human Rights Bureau
91) Roel Ravanera, Executive Director, Xavier Science Foundation (XSF)
92) Heinzelle Agatep, Board Secretary, Zinundungan Valley Agricultural Cooperative,
93) Ace Villaseñor, Chairman, Sitio Sapang Saging Farmers Association, Brgy. Sito Sapang
Dayap, San Ildefonso, Bulacan
94) Arturo Venayo, Chairman, Pinaod Farmers Association, Brgy. Pinaod, San Ildefonso,
95) Catalino Leonardo, Chairman, Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Magsasaka, Brgy. Gabihan,
San Ildefonso, Bulacan
96) Celso Venturina, Chairman, Bulusukan at Bubulong Malaki Farmers Association, Brgy.
Bulusukan, San Ildefonso, Bulacan
97) Dan Angelo Reyes, Chairman, Kasaganaan ng Palayan at Gulayan Farmers Association,
Brgy. Sapang Dayap, San Ildefonso, Bulacan
98) Deo Intacto, Chairman, Grains and Vegetable Farmers Association, Brgy Sapang Dayap,
San Ildefonso, Bulacan
99) Edgardo S. Unchiat, UJ Agribusiness, Inc.
100) Eduardo D. Layug, Chairman Emeritus, Regional Agriculture and Fishery Council
(RAFC), Region 11
101) Eduardo Ortega, Chairman, Hinubog ng Adhikain pang Agrikultura ng Gabihan, Brgy.
Gabihan, San Ildefonso, Bulacan
102) Edwin Marthine Lopez, Executive Director, and Harry Pineda, Program Director, Alter
Trade Foundation, Inc.
103) Elmer Veracruz, Chairperson, Provincial Agriculture and Fishery Council (PAFC),
104) Gil A. Portillo, Area Coordinator, Negros Occidental KAISAHAN, Inc.
105) Imelda Varela-Villacin, Vice-Chairperson, Quidan Kaisahan Negros Occidental, Inc.
106) Jeffrey Miranda, Chairman, Pasong Bangkal Farmers Association, Brgy. Pasong Bangkal,
San Ildefonso, Bulacan
107) Jet C. Orbida, President, Peace Pond Farmers Association, Binalbagan, Negros
108) Judy Pasimio, Over-all Coordinator, Lilak (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s
109) Kenneth T. Benignos, Vice-President, Salamanca Organics Corporation, Toboso, Negros
110) Kid Banas, Negros Organic Agriculture Movement (NOAM)
111) Leonilo Binalangbang, President, Federation of Free Farmers-Mindoro Occidental
112) Luis Miranda, Chairman, Upig Grains and Vegetable Farmers Association, Brgy. Upig,
San Ildefonso, Bulacan
113) Mario Rodeo, Chairman, Gintong Uhay Luntiang Gulay Farmers Association, Brgy.
Pulong Tamo, San Ildefonso, Bulacan
114) Nannette A. Thiel, President, Association of Negros Occidental Food Processors
115) Narciso Concepsion, Chairman, Makapilapil Irrigators Association, Brgy. Makapilapil,
San Ildefonso, Bulacan
116) Pamela T. Henares, Buro Buro Springs Vermi Farm, Bacolod City
117) Pedrito Kalaw, Chairman, Regional Agriculture and Fishery Council (RAFC), Region
118) Proculo T. Sarmen, President, Hiniusang Kahugpongan sa mga Mamumu-sa Amihanang
119) Rafael Coscolluela, Convenor; Priscilla Goco, Secretary-General; and District Coordinators,
120) Rafael Marin, Chairmna, Makapilapil Farmers Association, Brgy. Makapilapil, San
121) Ramon Silverio, Chairperson, Provincial Cooperative Development Council (PCDC),
122) Reena Gamboa, President, Aguinaldo Alicia Agricultural Corporation, Negros
123) Ruel Francisco, Chairman, Samahan ng Magpapalay at Maggugulay ng Sitio ng Pag asa,
Brgy. Sapang Putik, San Ildefonso, Bulacan
124) Venchito Pangan, Chairman, Bubulong Malaki Farmers Association, Brgy. Bubulong
Malaki, San Ildefonso Bulacan
125) Rodrigo Villacorta, Chairman, Bubulong Malaki Irrigators Association, Brgy. Sta
Catalina Matanda, San Ildefonso, Bulacan
126) Gerardo Ponce, Chairmna, Lapnit Irrigators Association, Brgy. Lapnit, San Ildefonso,
127) Rodolfo Nieto, Chairman, Iskul Bukid Farmers Association, Brgy. Sapang Putik, San
128) Nori Ignacio, Executive Director, Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community
129) Atty. Luke Espiritu, President, Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP)
130) Amando Jarilla, National Coordinator, Task Force Mapalad
131) Orly Gallano, President, Samahang Maralita- Zone One Tondo Organization
1) Dante S. Delima, former Undersecretary, Department of Agriculture
2) Eduardo C. Tadem, Professor Emeritus of Asian Studies, University of the Philippines,
3) Emmanuel Pinol, former Secretary, the Department of Agriculture, and former Chairman,
Mindanao Development Authority
4) Ernesto M. Ordonez, former Secretary, Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, Office
of the President; former Undersecretary, Department of Trade Industry, and Department of
5) Leonardo Q. Montemayor, former Secretary, Department of Agriculture
6) Vicente Hurlano, former National Expert on Farming Systems, United Nations-Food and
Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO) Philippines Country Office
7) Victor Gerardo Bulatao, former Undersecretary, Department of Agrarian Reform
8) Willie Buyson Villarama, former Congressman, 2nd District of Bulacan
9) Christian Monsod, Member, 1986 Constitutional Commission