DAVAO CITY: An expert on labor and industrial relations is pessimistic about the Philippines’ readiness for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) integration next year, citing the vulnerability of the country to unfair trade practices.
University of the Philippines professor Dr. Rene Ofreneo said the country is not ready for the establishment of an economic community between and among Asean members.
Ofreneo, former dean of UP’s School of Labor and Industrial Relations, said the Philippines is currently suffering from an imbalanced economy – something that is highly dependent on the remittances of the overseas Filipino workers and the Business Process Outsourcing industry.
“We have a different but unequal economy today,” said Ofreneo at a forum here recently. “We need a rebalancing because this economy is not sustainable.”
While he recognized how Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) remittances have buoyed the economy of the Philippines, Ofreneo said this certainly does not offer long-term solution to the economic woes of the country.
“I do not know how long we can be dependent on OFWs,” said Ofreneo, who served as Department of Labor and Employment Undersecretary for Labor Relations in 1997-98.
He said the best way to balance the country’s economy is to rebuild the damaged agriculture sector.
And rebuilding the agricultural sector involves making sure that agricultural productivity is efficient.
“Declining investments – both public and private – on agriculture have led to declining productivity, deficient value addition and poor job creation,” said Ofreneo.
He said Asean integration is aimed at improving and accelerating the economy of the regional bloc. It hopes to establish an “Asean single market and production base” characterized by “free flow of goods, free flow of services, free flow of investment, freer flow of capital, and free flow of skilled labor.
The Asean economic community blueprint also underscored that the “single market and production base also include two important components, namely, the priority integration sectors, and food, agriculture and forestry”.
Ofreneo said the Philippines must realize that its damaged agriculture will never withstand the pressure of the integration.
“How can we be ready for regional integration when we do not even have the industrial policy in support of agri-industrialization to calibrate trade policies and negotiations?” said Ofreneo, who is also a founding trustee of the Climate Change Congress of the Philippines.