Statement of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum 2017

Quezon City, Philippines

14 November 2017

As government leaders from ASEAN and their dialogue partners convene for the 31st ASEAN Summit and related meetings in the Philippines, more than a thousand participants coming from civil society and peoples’ organizations gathered from 10 to 13 Nov for the 2017 ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum 2017 (ACSC/APF) in Quezon City, Philippines. Representing sectors such as workers, smallholder farmers, women, indigenous peoples, youth, urban poor, LGBTQI, social workers, educators, cultural activists, human rights advocates, and environmentalists from all ASEAN countries including Timor Leste, they took the collective stand to demand an urgent break from the dominant development narrative that has bred extreme inequalities, extensive human rights violations, situations of conflict and violence, and wanton exploitation of natural resources that are overwhelming the region’s ecosystems.

Amid appearances of rapid economic growth, we also find ourselves on a path of rapidly rising inequality and injustice. There is a yawning gap between the richest members of ASEAN and those still in early stages of development. Equally worrying is the increasingly entrenched inequalities within countries.

As the economic crisis intensifies, social and cultural inequalities are also deepening, with those already made vulnerable from many years of exclusion and discrimination further pushed out into the margins.

Gender inequality, including gender-based and sexual violence, is exacerbated in both production and reproduction where women remain among the poorest populations, and continue to suffer discrimination and violence across their lifespan. ASEAN women earn between 30 to 40% less than men. Their unpaid care work is relied upon by a rising preference by states for private rather than public provision of social services.

Indigenous peoples continue to suffer from non-recognition and violations of their rights, including confiscation of their traditional lands, imprisonment and torture. They inhabit lands rich in natural resources, but are among the poorest populations because of economic exclusions and deprivation of basic social, cultural, civil and political rights and fundamental freedoms including their collective rights to lands, territories, resources, and participation in governance and decision-making.

Authoritarianism is gaining strength, mirroring a noted trend globally. Civil society/peoples’ organizations are finding it more and more difficult to express without fear and intimidation dissent and ensure government accountability. In particular, we raise grave concerns over the human rights situation and democratic deficit in all countries across Southeast Asia.

Thailand’s military junta has failed to fulfill its pledges to respect human rights and restore democratic rule three years after the military coup, and has, instead, prolonged its crackdown on basic rights andfreedoms. Democracy is in peril in Cambodia as the ruling regime carries out massive land grabbing and escalates its attacks against the political opposition, independent media, social activists and civil society.

The Philippine government, amid declining popularity, threatens to impose a nationwide martial rule and a revolutionary government in a bid to silence critics of its draconian anti-illegal drug campaign and war against rural communities and Moro peoples. In Indonesia, anti-communist paranoia is seeing a revival, with the government acquiescing to violent mobs and abusive security forces seeking to stifle voices calling for justice for victims of the 1965 anti-communist purge and their families. Indonesian LGBT groups are also coming under increasing attacks and repression as a result of growing alliance between state and extremist groups. In Myanmar, the civilian state is rapidly centralizing power as checks and balances erode. In Malaysia, the Orang Asal have lost their native customary rights to lands when the Federal Court ruled in favor of plantation companies, setting a precedent that will affect over 100 cases pending in high court and a legal cover for the government to eliminate native customary rights lands.

The ASEAN is one of the flashpoints of rivalry between the world’s superpowers. Insofar as pushing for all-out liberalization of the region is concerned, U.S., Japan, China, and Russia unite in breaking down barriers to trade and investment to allow the unhampered plunder of the region’s natural and human resources. But rivalry over dominance of the region is increasingly transforming this contingent unity into an antagonistic confrontation. The fight over the control of the South China Sea trade route has resulted in US and China saber-rattling.

Years of our critical engagement with ASEAN have not contributed in any substantive improvements in the state of our peoples’ lives and the environment. Issues and concerns raised by civil society, especially ACSC/APF continue to be ignored. Lack of meaningful dialogue, absence of opportunities for interface with officials, and inaction over the draft terms of reference on government-non-government relations evidence the shrinking space for civil society to effectively shape the agenda and policies of ASEAN and their respective governments.

The case for a radical transformation of ASEAN is irrefutable. Participants to the ACSC/APF 2017 firmly believe that such transformation will require taking decisive steps to ensure equitable distribution and sustainable use of natural resources, realize the full gamut of economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights for all peoples, and to reestablish itself along the principles of solidarity, cooperation, complementarity, and friendship among nations. To this end, the ACSC/APF shall develop and adopt a new vision for engagement by civil society with ASEAN based on greater people to people interactions that will establish, expand and strengthen a new peoples’ regional integration process based on the alternative practices of peoples, networks, and organizations across the region’s societies.

We call on the ASEAN and East Asian leaders, especially the succeeding host of the 2018 ASEAN summits Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to heed the call for a just, equitable, and humane Southeast Asia. In this light, we wish to reiterate the long-standing issues of peoples in the region: