Stefan Christoff: Concerning access to resources within waters in the Philippines, could you talk about what the people within your movement, fisher-folk in your organization, are saying concerning the proposed free-trade agreement with Japan?
Fernando Hicap: Fisher-folk in the Philippines are opposing this one-sided economic agreement with Japan, as this agreement isn’t intended to support the survival or independence for fisher-folk in the Philippines, this agreement is intended to support the Japanese commercial fishing industry, particularly the tuna industry. Japanese companies will make hundreds-of-millions of dollars from fishing for tuna in the Philippines. If this agreement goes through, if this agreement is signed, it will equal major profit for Japanese corporations.
Opening our waters in the Philippines to big corporations will ensure the destruction of our marine environment in the Philippines, so as a movement we stand against allowing foreign companies to enter our delicate waters.
Also, this agreement will potentially displace over one hundred thousand fisher-folk and related workers from the coast in the Philippines. If Japanese companies are given access to the exclusive economic zones, local workers will lose their jobs, lose their livelihood and be forced to relocate to urban poor areas. JPEPA clearly aims to support Japan’s commercial fishing industry, not fisher-folk in the Philippines and details within the agreement make it extremely clear.
Stefan Christoff: Today in the Philippines different social movements are strongly opposing the current government headed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and backed by the U.S., protests have been taking place across the country in recent years calling on the President to step-down. In this context wondering you thoughts on why the current administration in the Philippines is supporting this agreement with Japan.
Fernando Hicap: President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is not listening to the people of the Philippines. Basically the current government is aiming for political support from Japan, which is why Arroyo is pushing this one-sided agreement with Japan. President Arroyo is fighting for political survival and one key to maintaining power is getting support from powerful foreign government, such as Japan, which is an extremely powerful country in Asia and internationally.
Present Arroyo is currently facing a political crisis, stemming from credible accusations of election fraud in 2004 and also major corruption scandals within the government. Also the current administration is facing a growing international scandal surrounding hundreds of forced disappearances and political killings targeting activists in the Philippines, which U.N. reports have linked to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and current administration.
Given these conditions President Arroyo is soliciting support from international powers, such as Japan, which pushes forward negotiations on the JPEPA agreement. President Arroyo is seeking outside support, in this case political support from Japan, given the major turmoil in the Philippines and strong popular opposition to the current administration within the Philippines.
Stefan Christoff: Wondering if you could talk about how free-trade agreements or policy has impacted the Philippines until now, now we are discussing the proposed bilateral trade agreement with Japan. Wondering your thoughts on how free-trade agreements have impacted the Philippines in general and specifically fisher-folk in the country?
Fernando Hicap: All free-trade agreements that the Philippines has entered, dating back to the dictatorship under Ferdinand Marcos, have not benefited the majority of Filipino people or those working in the fishery sector. Due to such trade agreements we have been reduced to modern day slaves in our own country, forced as fisher-folk to act as workers or product providers for major international corporations and countries like Japan and the U.S.
Trade agreements or membership to the World Trade Organization (WTO) has done nothing to improve the lives of fisher-folk or most workers in the Philippines. Contributed to (Bulatlat.com)
Stefan Christoff is a journalist and community organizer who contributes this interview to Bulatlat.com This interview was originally produced for the Fighting FTAs project, an international project that provides a global picture on free trade agreements (FTAs), and insight into struggles being waged by social movements fighting back.