Published November 14, 2017 12:40pm

By NICOLE-ANN C. LAGRIMAS, GMA News

Southeast Asian civil society groups renew call for ‘genuine’ inclusion in ASEAN talks

Civil society organizations from all over Southeast Asia on Tuesday reiterated their longstanding call for the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to heed "the people's voice" clamoring against the current development model of the 50-year-old economic block.

Representatives of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference / ASEAN People's Forum agreed that civil society and marginalized sectors have been "systematically excluded" from the high-level discussions that take place during ASEAN meetings, including this week's 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings in Manila.

In a statement, the members of the group said they "collectively demand an urgent break away from the dominant development narrative that has bred economic, social and environmental crises, including extreme inequalities, extensive human rights violations, situations of conflict and violence, and wanton exploitation of natural resources."

They slammed in particular the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and free trade agreements currently being discussed by ASEAN leaders, saying these are only beneficial to richer countries, which would impose rules that may be negatively impactful to poorer countries and their marginalized populations, including farmers, low-skilled laborers, women, indigenous peoples, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

What they want, instead, is a genuine inclusion in ASEAN meetings for leaders to hear out people's concerns from the ground, they said.

Meetings so far, if they do take place, depend on the availability of senior ministers and yield only "broad" responses and hardly any follow-ups, said Jelen Paclarin, chairperson of the group's Regional Steering Committee.

Apart from concerns on economic integration generally being hailed as positive, the group's statement, which was the result of a four-day conference parallel to the ASEAN Summit, carries with it a critique of ASEAN member states' alleged neglect of human rights, saying they "continue to ignore the universality of and interdependence of human rights" and that ASEAN's human rights mechanism as "weak and toothless."

"In some ASEAN countries, governments are installing laws and committing acts that continue to destroy the enabling environment for CSOs (civil society organizations) and grassroots organizations, as well as human rights defenders," the statement said.

"Ordinary innocent people become targets of extra judicial killings. Leaders of groups challenging government policies are threatened and intimidated with trumped up charges," it added.

The Philippine government's ongoing war on drugs has been roundly criticized by local and international human rights advocacy groups, with many of them accusing police of carrying out extrajudicial killings against alleged drug suspects, many of them small-time and living below the poverty line.

These civil society organizations from ASEAN's 10 member-states also brought to Manila its list of concerns on human rights, peace, labor and migration in time for the 31st ASEAN Summit, and presented along with it an 8-point summary of general recommendations to the ASEAN.

The group's general recommendations are as follows:

    1. Put a social dimension to the ASEAN integration with emphasis on rights of people particularly marginalized and discriminated sectors
    2. Uphold human rights and the rule of law
    3. Review the ASEAN principle of non-interference and advance democracy and democratic decision-making in ASEAN
    4. Forge regional solutions to regional problems like conflict
    5. Adopt international laws and policies on human rights, labor laws, law on refugees, etc
    6. Expand spaces for peoples participation
    7. Build capacities for people empowerment
    8. Prioritize peoples' agenda over corporate agenda
    9. Support people's alternative regional integration
    10. Respect struggles of collective resistance

—KBK, GMA News

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