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Zubiri: RCEP ratification possible within February

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said Tuesday he expects the chamber to ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a mega trade deal involving Asia-Pacific nations, including the Philippines, within this month.

"We are looking at a [technical working group] within this weekend [and] up to next week. It could be sponsored on the floor, hopefully, either on Wednesday (next week)... and we can probably go for a vote the week after for RCEP. Remember that it is a treaty so we need 16 votes, two-thirds vote," he said in an interview with reporters.

He also expressed confidence that the treaty will get the support of 16 senators since agricultural products—the top concern of several groups—will not be covered.

The lawmaker made the remark despite the reservations of some of his colleagues, particularly Senator Imee Marcos, President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.'s sister.

Senator Marcos was supposed to lead the hearings on the RCEP as chairperson of the Senate committee on foreign relations, but the Senate formed a subcommittee headed by Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda to tackle the treaty.

In a statement, Senator Marcos explained that she does not want to lead the RCEP hearings because there is a "force" that pushes the Senate to expedite its ratification.

"Merong kung anong pwersa na nag-uudyok na madaliin ang RCEP, o Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership; idinidikdik ito na para bang ang Pilipinas na lang ang hindi pa pumipirma," she said.

(There seems to be a force working to hasten RCEP's ratification. It's being pushed as if the Philippines is the only nation that hasn't signed the agreement.)

She also expressed concern for the agriculture sector and small enterprises, which she said would be adversely affected by the trade deal.

"Hindi pa rin naibibigay ang mga pangangailangan ng mga magbubukid pansagot sa mass importation," she said.

(The needs of the farmers are still not being met in response to the mass importation.)

"Hindi kaya ng aking konsensya na tayuan ang RCEP kung padadapain nito ang ating mga kababayan," she added.

(My conscience will not let me support the RCEP if it harms our countrymen.)

Despite this, Zubiri said Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin on Monday clearly stated that the RCEP is a priority of the current administration.

The RCEP is a free trade agreement first floated in August 2012, covering members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its partners Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.

Before he assumed office, the President had expressed his reservations about the RCEP, saying he wanted to look at how it would impact the country’s agriculture sector. — VBL, GMA Integrated News