• Sen. Risa Hontiveros voted no against the RCEP's ratification, while Sen. Imee Marcos abstained
  • Sen. Juan Zubiri said the RCEP is deemed to provide 1.4 million jobs for Filipinos in 8 years
  • Farmers' group SINAG said free trade deals undermine the country's capacity to produce its own food

The Philippine Senate on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to allow the country to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world's largest trade pact that involves members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its partners.

A total of 20 senators voted for Resolution No. 485 concurring with the ratification of the RCEP, while Sen. Risa Hontiveros became the lone opposition and Sen. Imee Marcos abstained from voting, GMA News reported. The Philippines is the last ASEAN member to ratify the RCEP.

Before the Senate's Tuesday vote, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said other ASEAN countries that already ratified the RCEP agreement reaped the benefits of the trade deal.

Zubiri, who sponsored the bill alongside Sen. Loren Legarda, also said during Monday's Senate plenary session that the RCEP is expected to provide up to 1.4 million jobs for Filipinos by 2031, the Inquirer reported.

Sen. Hontiveros, on the other hand, said she had a letter from 131 organizations that represents the thoughts of "millions of Filipinos who say that our country is not ready for this deal, that we already obtain the benefits from our other agreements, and that we even stand to lose."

Meanwhile, Sen. Marcos pointed out the RCEP may reduce assurance that the Philippines can "protect the vulnerable sectors" such as agriculture industries. Sen. Marcos, the sister of President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, did not sign the Senate's committee report on RCEP even as her brother tagged the RCEP bill as a "priority" proposed legislation.

The RCEP trade deal involves ASEAN countries and its partners China, Australia, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand. The pact eliminates 91% of tariffs on certain goods.

The pact also covers about 30% of the global gross domestic product and world population, as per the Philippine Star.

During his visit to Japan earlier this month, the president had championed the RCEP trade deal, expressing confidence that his country would soon ratify the agreement.

"This administration is pushing for the congressional ratification – which I am promised will be coming soon – of the Philippines' participation" in the RCEP, he said.

Meanwhile, farmers' group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) warned of the "disastrous impact" of the trade deal for the Philippine agriculture industry.

"No amount of sugar coating can hide the disastrous impact of RCEP on the country, especially to the agriculture sector. Putting a thousand guidelines to an oversight committee without an enabling law is meaningless," SINAG executive director Jayson Cainglet said, according to The Manila Times.

Cainglet further argued that the "free trade regime" turned the Philippines "into a net food importing country," and such a system ultimately ruined the country's capacity to produce its own agriculture goods.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros
Sen. Risa Hontiveros was the sole senator who voted no in ratifying the Philippines' membership in the RCEP. Risa Hontiveros official Facebook page