Editorial: The ASEAN and indigenous peoples


News media these days are filled with hype about the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). 50 years since its establishment, the ASEAN Chairmanship is now with the Philippines under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The ASEAN Summit started in Manila, November 11 until today, to be followed by the East Asia Summit (EAS) to be held in Clark from November 13-14, 2017. Heads of States will be coming from 18 countries in 3 continents around the world – Asia, America and Australia – including the President of the United States Donald Trump.

Non-working holidays have been declared in time for the Summits to ease traffic for the thousands of ASEAN and EAS official delegates expected to arrive in the country. Traffic drills have been held since weeks ago to ensure the smooth conduct of the series of ASEAN events being hosted by the Philippines.

This is also one way for the Philippine government to preempt massive demonstrations being planned by progressive people’s organizations in protest against these crucial events.

Meanwhile, praise is pouring in for the supposed benefits of ASEAN economic integration. Through such agreements as the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint, ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA), ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA), and the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement, trade in the region has already been fully liberalized to the benefit and glee of rich traders and investors.

In addition, ASEAN connectivity, borderless energy supply and infrastructure is being pushed through such projects as the ASEAN Power Grid (APG) involving the construction of multiple megadams in Malaysia and the Mekong Region, ASEAN Highway Network, Singapore-Kunming, China Rails and the Trans-ASEAN pipelines.

But who really benefits from this liberalized trade and investments and multiple infrastructure projects being planned and implemented all over the ASEAN region?

Clearly it is the rich private corporations with money to invest that are reaping the profits of ASEAN economic integration. According to an assessment published in Inquirer on Nov 6, 2017: “Firms in countries around the region have pursued strategic cross-border investments and partnerships, establishing regional and global value chains made easier by freer trade. Companies like Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand (CP) and Betagro, Malaysia’s Leong Hup and QL Resources, and the Philippines’ Oishi (Liwayway) and Jollibee have tapped tremendous cross-border opportunities in the region and beyond.”

Before we praise the ASEAN Economic Integration to high heavens as a blessing for economic, political, socio-cultural development in the region, let us reflect on what the common people have to lose from such development. Let us look at ourselves, as indigenous peoples, farmers, workers and other sectors, who, until today face great difficulties making ends meet or even earning enough to feed our families, much less to cope with the ever-rising cost of living in our country.

What are the implications of ASEAN liberalization of trade and investment for indigenous peoples, particularly the farmer peasants in the Cordillera?

Local farmers are now threatened with stiffer competition in the market due to free importation of vegetables, rice, meat and other agricultural products from other ASEAN countries. Small indigenous owner-tillers struggle against bankruptcy as they are forced to buy expensive agrochemical inputs for their products to become competitive in the ASEAN market.

The absence of State subsidy for agriculture in the country makes it impossible for local farmers to match the low prices of imported vegetables, making farming a losing business. It is often cheaper for farmers to throw away their vegetable crop than to transport it all the way to the market only to be bought at P1 per kilo or at prices way below the production cost!

Meanwhile, the rush of foreign investments in mining, renewable energy projects such as dams and geothermal plants is targeting ancestral lands in the Cordillera. Violations of free prior informed consent (FPIC) accompanied by militarization and resulting human right violations, is sowing disunity in affected communities.

Displacement is a foreboding reality as private corporations, assisted by government agencies, are forcing extractive industries and destructive projects into indigenous communities and ancestral territories.

This is true not only in the Philippines but also for other indigenous peoples in ASEAN countries, most of whom are not even recognized by their governments. Numerous dams, mining, logging, plantations and infrastructure projects are threatening the land and lives of millions of indigenous peoples in Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam and other ASEAN countries.

ASEAN economic integration is indeed a boon for rich private and public investors and corporations who are bound to earn stupendous profits from the open market for their investments and trade. The likes of Oishi and Jollibee. Mining companies like CEXCI and Nickel Asia. Power corporations like Aboitiz and Chevron, and many, many more.

But for the people whose lives really matter, ASEAN Economic Integration is bound to bring yet more difficulties – due to economic, cultural and physical displacement and further exploitation of our already depleted ancestral lands and natural resources.

We need to assert the collective demands of peoples for sovereignty, democracy, social justice and peace. Let the real peoples’ voices be heard amidst the hullabaloo of the ASEAN and EAS summits. # nordis.net


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