Health groups under the Health Alliance for Democracy joined the multi-sectoral protest action against Imperialist Globalization on May 11, 2017. "The closed-door meetings between world economic leaders, businessmen, and countries involved in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership pose serious threats to basic human rights, including health," said HEAD Chairperson Dr. Darby Santiago.
RCEP is a free-trade agreement between the ten member states of ASEAN, with China bearing the lead role in response to the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnerships. Specific details behind RCEP remain secret, although several leaks point to the same neoliberal policies of liberalization, deregulation, and privatization that are in the TPP. "Health workers' rights are primarily at risk: these trade agreements seek to facilitate cheap labor and resources from the Philippines and other underdeveloped countries in Southeast Asia. Aside from low wages, these entail worse working conditions as corporations want to secure more profit," said Dr. Santiago.
"What's even scary is the drive to intensify patent laws, which will worsen the people's access to cheaper medicines. RCEP ensures that private companies will own exclusive rights to produce drugs, including the generic ones, resulting to monopoly and higher cost of medicines," added Santiago. For starters, branded HIV/AIDS medication costs 13,000 US dollars per person per year; the generic version only costs 67 US dollars. Generic drug pharmacies are also at risk of going out of business.
"The investor-state dispute settlement seals the deal to completely reject these imperialist impositions. Under RCEP and similar free-trade agreements, trans-national corporations can sue country states if that country's laws and constitution prevent them from reaping profits," added Santiago. Whether we win or lose the case comes the litigation costs, such as in the MWSS v Maynilad case where we paid 52 million US dollars for litigation alone. "It's tax payers' money, which could have been spent for free healthcare or salaries of health workers. Worse, it meddles with our sovereignty. The welfare of the people would be in peril."
"That the head of states discuss economic treaties with businessmen behind closed doors warrant public scrutiny. It compels us to ask, 'what about the people?'" said Dr. Santiago. "Health care, education, labor conditions, agriculture and other basic services, struggles fought and won, are in danger of being lost by the people en masse. The Duterte administration must prioritize its primary stakeholders – the Filipinos people – and reject these economic neoliberal impositions."
Amidst these great challenges, the people's resistance against these free trade agreements grows stronger by the minute. Health Alliance for Democracy joins the international clamor to resist RCEP and the ever growing threat of imperialist globalization in Southeast Asia. We call on our fellow health professionals, health workers, health science students, patients, and health advocates to join the resistance. Our collective action together with multi-sectoral groups shall prevent RCEP and free-trade agreements from endangering the very fabric of our society.##