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MANILA, Philippines (Updated 3:40 p.m.)—Around 70 foreigners, all registered delegates of the ADB’s 45th annual meeting in Manila, were temporarily refused entry minutes before President Benigno Aquino III delivered a speech before the event.
Delegates from India, Indonesia, Singapore, Mongolia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Tonga, Nepal, Japan, Cambodia, and the Philippines were barred by the police's ground commander from entering the PICC grounds.
All wearing T-shirts printed with anti-ADB messages, the foreign delegates were dropped off by their service vehicle at the west gate of Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) to attend the ADB’s Opening Session of the Board of Governors.
Tension rose when the police held up the delegates at the gates to verify their identities. Later, a truncheon-wielding civil disturbance unit of the Pasay police arrived at the scene, which later encircled the delegates and pushed them back across the street.
The foreign civil society delegates asked the police why they were being driven away when they are registered participants of the ADB Meeting and had been part of the activities since Wednesday.
The delegates are all members of the Global Union Federations (GUF) and wore shirts with protest messages such as "ADB: Respect workers' rights", "ADB, promote pro-poor, pro-worker growth" and "Fight poverty, protect our dignity."
The protest action was their way to express opposition to the ADB's alleged continued inaction on calls to protect workers' rights in its projects.
The delegates were later allowed to enter the premises half an hour after Aquino delivered his speech and after they took off their anti-ADB shirts, Alan Tanjusay of the GUF told InterAksyon.com in a phone interview.
For its part, the ADB said the incident “unfortunate” since “some members from [CSOs] could not join the opening session.”
In an email message sent to InterAksyon, the Manila-based multilateral lender said that its “Annual Meeting is open to civil society groups.”
“ADB has a record number of civil society participants this year, and a comprehensive CSO engagement program including five CSO panel discussions covering various topics chosen by CSOs themselves,” the email message said.
Meanwhile, a pro-poor group was similarly barred by the police from joining their fellow GUF members at the PICC premises.
When a group from Makabayan, a pro-poor group, reached the corner of Pablo Ocampo and FB Harrison Streets in Pasay City—about a kilometer away from the PICC—they were disallowed from proceeding to the ADB meeting.
The group remains opposed to the ADB, citing its anti-poor agenda.
The ADB meeting is “the last nail that will be hammered on the sale of our healthcare, power, and water. It will be the poor who would suffer," Pete Pinlac of Makabayan told InterAksyon.com
"They [the government] will privatize our public hospitals, the last power plants, Agus and Pulangi which are now open for bidding. It also include our water services. The ADB is the one financing this privatization, even before Epira came to being," he added.
The Energy and Power Industry Reform Act (Epira), among others, requires the sale of power plants, which are owned by the government through the National Power Corp. (Napocor). The Agus and Pulangi plants in Mindanao have been temporarily exempted from privatization but that exemption has lapsed.
The Epira also paves the way for the open-access scheme, which allows qualified consumers to choose their own power suppliers instead of the present practice of distribution utilities sourcing electricity on their behalf. In order to do this, the right to run, manage and operate the facilities of the Napocor must be auctioned off to private firms.
Meanwhile, another foreign organization expressed opposition to the ADB meeting, saying that the Manila-based multilateral lender should start being “a responsible institution.”
"We dare the ADB to walk the talk. Be a responsible institution by putting forward pro-worker policies in its projects from design down to implementation," Mahendra Sharma, International Transport Federation regional secretary, said in a statement.
Since 2005, the GUF has been engaging the ADB during its annual meetings to adopt the International Labor Organization Core Labor Standards as part of its official operational policy and regulation to protect workers' right to self-organization and collective bargaining.
They had also been calling on the Manila-based lender to establish institutional partnership with trade union organizations based in its operational policies contained in the Operations Manual as complementary system of its accountability mechanism.
The GUF are also asking the ADB to initiate dialogue with trade unions to review loans and grants that strengthen member states' policies to privatize basic public utilities such as power and water and to tackle proliferation of "precarious" working conditions in ADB project sites.