What To Look for in Biodiversity, Innovation, Trade and Societal (BITS) Concerns in the Philippines in 2013

Elpidio V. Peria
28 January 2013

This year-starter of a post would seem a bit late but hey, it’s still January and before the month bows out and we get really deep into the workings of the year 2013, we may want to have a preview of what could possibly happen this year, based on what transpired in the year just past.

Biodiversity-related Concerns

The damage to Tubbataha Reef by a US minesweeper recently raises a lot of questions like, what are they doing here, are they laying mines or studying where to put one, but why near the Tubbataha Reef? Given the much-vaunted technological or navigational prowess of the US Navy, they would miss those “bahura” in the Reef? But for our purposes, the challenge here related to biodiversity is the accounting of the damage caused by the grounding of the ship and how are they going to go about it – will they take into account the economic value of the ecosystem services the reef system has been providing and will the US ever pay these kinds of assessed damages? The law creating the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park (Republic Act 10067, passed in 2009) mentioned the use of “current valuation standards” in determining administrative fines in case of damages to the reef. This is something that we can come back to later given further developments on this item.

For now, the main issue coming out from the big biodiversity-related meeting of the United Nations in Hyderabad in India last October (the 11th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity) is how will the Philippine government follow-through on the tasks required to inventory or measure its national expenditures related to biodiversity. This was part of the deal that was struck in the early morning hours after the last day of the Conference, that developed countries will double the international flow of funds to support the Global Plan for Biodiversity Conservation 2011-2020 but that all countries, particularly developing countries, should first identify how much of their own funds they are currently spending now for biodiversity conservation, which figure should serve as a baseline which will be used later in determining those international financial flows to developing countries.

One consequence of this which will happen later in these debates is that developed countries will point out that since most of these expenses are already being met by developing countries, then they will not need as much money from international sources. The developing countries on the other hand will point out that, look, this money being used for biodiversity conservation, which is part of an international obligation by developed countries, could better be used for other more-pressing social services (as if biodiversity conservation is not a pressing social service) needed by the country.

Innovation-related Concerns

Last year we had a blog post reporting on the initiatives of the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines regarding the non-traditional areas of intellectual property like on climate change, medicine, international trade and traditional knowledge, we can expect these initiatives to go into full implementation this year, and this blog will provide updates on these initiatives aside from reporting also the initiatives that will be initiated by BITS Policy Center in these same areas this year.

One thing that must be watched carefully is the amendments to the copyright chapter of the Intellectual Property Code, which, based on the information from the Intellectual Property Office itself and its key people, has already hurdled the bicameral conference committee of the Philippine Congress and is either awaiting the signatures of the head of both houses of Congress, the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives and the President. This law will have an impact on the duration of copyright in the country, including other relevant economic and moral rights related to copyright and the interplay of these rights in cyberspace, as it deals with the implementation of the Philippines’ accession to the so-called WIPO Internet treaties back in early 2000s. This could have an impact on the issue of access to these copyrighted materials and the balance of rights between the users of copyright and the rights holders themselves, particularly in the domain of the internet. Whether this debate will be magnified by the on-going court case in the implementation of the Cybercrime Act, which has provisions on intellectual property, (see BITS blog posting on this last year), remains to be seen.

Trade-related Concerns

This should be a big year for the World Trade Organization (WTO) as it seeks to finally close the long-delayed Doha Round of Trade Negotiations which started back in 2001 in Doha, with a Ministerial Conference in Bali, Indonesia sometime in the tail-end of the year.

The WTO struggles for relevance as the bilateral approach to trade negotiations also picks up steam this year, what with the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement going into high gear this year even as its twin, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) trying to recover from its setback in the EU.

Societal Concerns

At the top of societal concerns followed by BITS Policy Center are those that relate to climate change and the various actions, local, national and international, that are being taken to deal with it. While the so-called Doha Climate Gateway is a disappointment to many for its lack of any dramatic deal that will decisively address the increasing global temperatures of the planet, there were specific and concrete achievements in the area of technology transfer, adaptation and some process gains in climate finance. There is also an opportunity for increasing the level of ambition for the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cuts in 2014 while various approaches were identified to also assist in scaling up mitigation efforts across various sectors of the economy.

At the national level, the Framework Agreement of the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) appeared to have come to some consensus on the Annexes which will be the one that will matter most in determining whether the Agreement will succeed or not. This blog will dissect these Annexes and give its opinion on these concerns, hopefully to spur debate and agreement among interested sectors on the Framework Agreement.

There are a lot of other things that can happen but from what has been reported in this blog from last year, these are the things of interest to watch out for in this new year 2013.


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