The Philippine government has asked the Supreme Court to overturn an earlier decision directing the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to scrap the definitive safeguard duties imposed on all cement imports. In a 55-page motion for reconsideration before the High Tribunal’s second division, the Office of the Solicitor General headed by Alfredo Benipayo said the July 8 ruling sends the wrong signal to local industries, the agriculture sector and those that are adversely affected by liberalisation.
“If the decision is not reconsidered, this may be taken to be the judicial imprimatur to unreasonably increase the threshold for obtaining safeguards,” the solicitor general stated in the motion. Besides sending a message that it is difficult to obtain safeguards to protect industries in the Philippines, the government counsel argued that the decision reduced the trade secretary to a “rubber stamp.”
“The decision violated the principle of separation of powers when it reduced the DTI secretary, an alter ego of the President, to a rubber stamp binding him to implement the Tariff Commission’s recommendation,” the motion added.
As an alter ego of the President who has the power to impose tariff rates, the government counsel said the trade secretary has the final say on whether or not to impose safeguard measures as provided under Republic Act 8800 otherwise known as the Safeguard Measures Act of 2000.
It added that the decision set “an erroneous and dangerous assumption” that our country’s commitments under the World Trade Organization binds us to make it difficult for local industries to obtain safeguards. In an earlier ruling, it was held that the WTO allows for safeguards and this “built-in protective measure” under the WTO is available to local industries.In December 2001, the DTI under then-trade secretary Manuel Roxas II imposed a provisional safeguard duty of P20.60 per bag on all cement imports until the end of this year after it found merit in a petition filed by local manufacturers. The duty was made definitive in June last year but the amount was reduced to P15.60 per bag last March after local cement producers failed to lower their prices.
However, the Supreme Court on July 8 issued a ruling favoring Taiheiyo-owned Southern Cross Cement Corp and directing the DTI to lift the P20.60 safeguard duty per bag of imported cement.