World Social Forum 2016: Health impacts of free trade agreements in the Philippines

Statement from Joseph Carabeo to the activity “Are current trade agreements bad for our health?” at the 2016 World Social Forum.
10 August 2016
Montreal, Canada (via Skype)

Joseph Carabeo is Secretary General of the Health Alliance for Democracy and is an active member of PHM in the Philippines. Joseph was not issued a visa to travel to Canada, so he joined the activity via Skype. 

“Over the past decades, the majority of the Filipinos continue to bear the impacts of neoliberal globalization shaped by the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-World Bank structural adjustment programmes (SAPs), firmed up by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)/World Trade Organization (WTO) and through regional formations like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). And now comes Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and EU-Philippines free trade agreement.

Monopolistic capitalists form trade deals that are fashioned to intensify the concentration of resources, wealth and power into their hands while our subservient government facilitates  legislation of laws to legitimize their plunder and exploitation of our resources and people.

Consider the following:

Our economy remains to be import and foreign capital dependent (especially in power, water and information technology) and export-oriented (from agricultural goods to human resources; overseas Filipino remittances substitute for domestic work and incomes)

There is agricultural & industrial decline (i.e., production) from a high of 60% contribution to the GDP in the  1950s-70s to a low of 39% in 2010-2014 because of the successive liberalization measures

In the field of agriculture, 7 out of 10 remain landless, suffer from lack of subsidy from government, working with backward farming methods and whose produce have to compete with cheap imports from foreign countries. From a previously rice exporting country in the 70s-80s, the Philippines is now one of the top rice importers in Asia.  Aside from flooding the local markets with cheap imports from foreign countries, the entry of unsafe food items because of the removal of proper labelling (e.g., GMOs) and lax border controls is also a concern.

The export orientation of agriculture has led to massive commercialization of lands and massive expansions of local and transnational agri-business corporations like Del Monte, Dole and Nestle. Meanwhile, monopolistic agro-corporations like Monsanto, Du Pont and Syngenta find their way to control the commercial seed market and other farm inputs [leading to] to the death of organic farming and informal seed systems.

Manufacturing saw its share of the GDP shrink from 25.3% in 1996 to 23.3% in 2014; its share of employment dipped from 9.9% to 8.3%. Over 16 years, 72,777 factories shut down, most of them small. In 1996, 97,841 firms employed 1.25 million workers, by 2012 only 25,064 firms in operation employed 1.19 million.

The job losses have made life worse for the 66 million poor Filipinos today as they struggle to survive on P125 ($2USD) or less a day. Our poor countrymen suffer from stagnant real wages, job instability, less and less land to till, plus the rising costs of education, health care, transport, water, electricity.

True, new wealth was created. But much of it was siphoned off by the prime beneficiaries of globalization. The net income of the 1,000 top corporations in the Philippines (including multinational corporations and fast-growing conglomerates of local capitalists) increased 4 times from P25 billion (US$539 million) in 1996 to P1 trillion (US $22 billion) in 2013. This year the richest 25 Filipinos are worth $65.4 billion USD, equivalent to the aggregate incomes of the 26 million poorest Filipinos.


The Philippines’ health landscape paints a dark and neglected picture. Seven out of ten Filipinos die without seeing a doctor; the average hospital bill amounts to three times the monthly salary of a minimum wage earner (talk of growing commercialization and privatization of health care); death by preventable and curable diseases is a common trend (because of budget cuts sacrificing primary health care)


Attack on the health care system: Privatization comes in the form of increasing user fees, corporatization (government is poised to corporatize 72 public hospitals), Public-Private partnerships, outsourcing and outright sale of hospitals (starting from their lots, just as in the National Center for Mental Health and the national maternity hospital Sr. Fabella Hospital).

On the tools for cure…Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and now investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) offers more gargantuan profits. As the current health situation of Filipinos edge towards collapse, the pharmaceutical market remains at a steady boom.In the first quarter of 2015, pharmaceutical output, drugs, and medicines account for 46% of the medical out-of-pocket expenses of Filipino households, according to Business Monitoring International (BMI) Research. For the poor, the percentage rises to 55% of their household expenses. Out-of-pocket demand for drugs and medications was projected to reach P155 billion (US$3.46 billion), an increase of P30 billion (US$664 million) since 2010.

Overall, foreign pharmaceutical companies captured almost two-thirds or P417.20 billion (US$9 billion) of the total P649 billion (US$14 billion) Philippine pharmaceutical market from 2006-2011. Of the 17 top manufacturers of drugs and medicines in 2012, eleven were foreign-owned (seven of these originate from EU countries). (*Particular emphasis because of recent movement in the EU-Philippines free trade agreement.)

Health care workers – now part of the growing workforce for labor export. The country remains one of the top exporters. Though we feel the competition in the Asia-Pacific with the recently concluded TPP (of which the Philippines is not yet a member), and now the RCEP—a virtual tug of war is happening in setting the standards of trade for the region. 

Our position: the real concern is not about which should win. Neither will address the long standing people’s aspiration for an international trading system that responds to their needs. The recent conclusion of the TPP mounts undue pressure on RCEP to speed up talks and reach an agreement by the end of 2016.  And we are ready to resist both!

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