MANILA – While officials of ASEAN governments and their dialogue partners met behind closed doors for the ASEAN and East Asia meetings, over 1,000 members of civil society marched Monday to call for an end to what they said had been 50 years of exclusionary, elitist growth.
The fishers, farmers, environment, peace and human rights activists, and other members of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APF2017) marched towards the Philippine International Convention Center where leaders of ASEAN and its dialogue partners are meeting this week to celebrate the 50th founding year of ASEAN.
The civil society network said the half a century of such exclusionary growth had left the ASEAN promise of human progress for most of the region’s peoples just a dream. They reiterated demands for ASEAN leaders to act on people’s aspirations and recommendations towards building a truly people-centered Southeast Asia based on the principles of social justice, equity, and human rights.
The groups showed strong disappointment over the governments’ inaction on their plight and demands over the last five decades of ASEAN’s inception. The 500 fishers led by Pagkakaisa ng mga Mangingisda sa Pilipinas (Pangisda-Pilipinas) rued their exclusion from ASEAN’s development targets. Pangisda president Pablo Rosales asked the ASEAN leaders “how shall we live if you drive us out of the water? ASEAN should end its pro-trade liberalization policies, and that it must buck reclamation and illegal fishing and dumpsite.” Fishers carrying their paddles, boats and nets sent their message to ASEAN: “50th anibersaryo ng ASEAN: 50 taon binansot ang pag-unlad ng mangingisda at industriya ng pangisdaan.” (50th anniversary of ASEAN: 50 years of stunted growth of fishers and the fishing industry).
The National Movement on Food Sovereignty (NMFS) leading the 500 farmers who joined the march denounced the lack of decisive action by ASEAN states to address food insecurity in the region. NMFS cluster head Trinidad Domingo said that the past 50 years have been marked by the absence of food sovereignty in the country.
In a collective statement to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ACSC/APF 2017 highlighted how civil society has critically engaged the ASEAN despite minimal outcomes in terms of substantive improvements in peoples’ lives. The ACSC/APF 2017 said it will continue to stress the urgency of addressing the peoples’ demands to end poverty, deprivation, injustice, inequality and discrimination in the region.
Besides farmers and fishers, migrant workers who are mostly in low-skilled sectors and in the informal economy remain vulnerable to greater risks under the ASEAN integration, the marchers saod. ACSC/APF Regional Steering Committee Chair Jelen Paclarin of Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau said the integration has also failed to recognize the social cost of migration, in particular, the impact on families and children left behind.
She added that ASEAN must immediately adopt an ASEAN Instrument on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of All Migrant Workers to protect these workers and their families.
“For ASEAN to be a truly caring and sharing community, it must guarantee social protection, food, decent work and essential services for all. At least 6% of the country’s GDP should be allocated for social protection. Our governments should stop the policy of privatization of public services especially healthcare, education, water, energy and housing,” said Ana Maria Nemenzo, co-convenor of DIGNIDAD and Network for Transformative Social Protection.
Cambodian activist Sophea Chrek from Focus on the Global South said that with widening inequality being experienced worldwide including in Southeast Asia, ASEAN should also guarantee social protection, food, decent work and essential services for all especially for marginalized groups. She raised peoples’ call to reverse the privatization of public services, especially healthcare, education, water and energy.
Meanwhile, Indonesian feminist Rena Herdiyani of KALYANAMIRA expressed strong concern over growing child marriage in ASEAN and related increasing mortality rate especially in Indonesia.
Civil society in other ASEAN member states also made this call to ASEAN: “To achieve a sustainable Social ASEAN, these structural issues must be addressed — democratic participation, gender equality, and protection and promotion of rights of workers and vulnerable groups. Existing ASEAN Declarations with a social dimension must also be made binding on governments.”
Meanwhile, environmental groups pointed out the missing pillar in ASEAN – on environment. Ian Rivera of the Philippine Movement on Climate Justice explained the urgency of addressing the worsening state of environment in the region. “The pursuance of the ASEAN governments of expanding the market and achieving economic growth at the expense of the destruction of the environment still persists despite their commitment to work towards sustainable development as well as promoting the clean and green environment. Further, recognizing the critical role of fighting the climate crisis in the region, we call for a pillar on the environment and phasing out of coal and other fossil fuels in Southeast Asia and the immediate shift to clean, safe, and renewable energy system.”
Shalmali Guttal of EU-ASEAN FTA Campaign Network and executive director of Thailand-based Focus on the Global South said the neoliberal thrust for an integrated regional market steers member states into preparing the region to take its place in a global market ever hungry for profit accumulation. “This is evidenced and reinforced, for one, by FTAs such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and new generation bilateral treaties that are a growing cause for concern owing to its impending attacks on the region’s agricultural sector, on labor rights including those of migrant workers, women, marginalized sectors, indigenous populations, access to cheap and life-saving medicines, and a threat to national sovereignty.”
ASEAN, they said, should also put front and center the issues of regional peace and human security that imperil the stability of the whole regional community and beset the lives of the most vulnerable peoples in the region. Gus Miclat, executive director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue, said these challenges are rooted in the inability of most governments to address the roots of the internal armedconflicts arising from assertions of the right to self-determination, ethnic struggles, political unrest, violent extremism, the rise of terrorism, disputes over cross-border territorial and maritime issues, militarization, and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms among others.
Former House Representative Walden Bello also shared the increasing threats to the lives and people’s access to justice as authoritarianism is on the rise in the region. He reiterated the need for ASEAN to create or strengthen mechanisms to investigate, monitor, and provide effective redress and remedy for human rights violations in the region, and the observance of International Humanitarian Law. He also called for strengthening the protection mandate and the Terms of Reference of ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), and a halt on the current war on drugs that is taking place in the region.
“While we continue our engagement with ASEAN, we also lay down the preparations for developing an alternative Southeast Asian regional integration based on alternative practices on the ground among communities and social movements that challenge the neo-liberal model of development. An alternative regional integration entails thinking and acting outside the ASEAN box and linking these local practices in their economic, political, and socio-cultural dimensions along the principles of cooperation, solidarity, mutual benefit, the commons, and joint development,” said Prof. Eduardo Tadem, president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition and co-convener of ACSC/APF 2017 National Organizing Committee.
The ACSC/APF said that in its 50th year, ASEAN is presented with a momentous opportunity to prove its relevance and responsiveness to peoples in the region by moving towards the realization of its vision. “We call on the President of the Republic of the Philippines as the host of this year’s ASEAN summits, to rise to the challenge of demonstrating leadership in building a just, equitable, and humane Southeast Asia. This can only be done credibly if President Duterte starts with policies and programs here at home that enable the delivery of the many pro-people pronouncements he made during his campaign, such as putting an end to contractualization, ending corruption, opening new public health facilities, and pursuing an independent foreign policy in line with international human rights standards. Ultimately, the success of this year’s summits will be judged by its ability to respond to the people’s needs and advance the principles of social justice, and human rights and welfare across all dimensions in Southeast Asian region.”
Organizations present at the march and press conference were Freedom from Debt Coalition, Focus on the Global South, Initiatives for International Dialogue, Kilos Maralita, National Movement for Food Sovereignty, Network for Transformative Social Protection, Partido Lakas ng Masa, Pangisda-Pilipinas, Philippine Movement for Climate Justice, Philwomen on ASEAN, Sanlakas, and Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau.