Workers, farmers hit ASEAN summit for being anti-poor

ASEAN's plan to establish a single market for the region will negatively impact small farmers and food producers, they say
Workers, farmers hit ASEAN summit for being anti-poor

Activist groups carry placards assailing the presence of U.S. President Donald Trump at the ASEAN summit in Manila that opened on Nov. 13. (Photo by Vincent Go)

Activist groups, including workers and farmers, lambasted the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Manila this week for being anti-poor.

Protesters are holding daily marches around the Philippine capital this week to show their indignation over what they call the summit's disregard for the interests of the basic sectors of society.

The Associated Labor Unions and the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines noted that the regional summit has become "exclusive only for business and capitalists."

"The summit is the premium event of the ASEAN integration process. But it is exclusive only for governments, business and employers," said Alan Tanjusay, the groups' spokesman.

He noted that no discussions were planned during the meeting on wages and benefits for workers.

The labor groups have been lobbying for the inclusion of trade unions in policy formulation, enforcement, and monitoring of labor and occupational safety and health standards in the region.

"There is no seat at the table for the workers to lay down the binding general labor standards and the occupational safety and health standards for workers in ASEAN," said Tanjusay.

International farmers' group La Via Campesina called for ASEAN member states "to respect, protect, and promote the right to land and access to justice of farmers and peasants in the region."

"Peasants' rights must be secured to ensure that there can be food on every person's table," said Elvira Baladad, the Philippines representative for La Via Campesina.

"We owe it to the food producers of Southeast Asia to protect their rights," she said, adding that 70 percent of the food that people consume globally comes from small farmers.

She said ASEAN's plan to establish a single market for the region through free trade agreements and large-scale investments has negatively impacted small farmers and food producers.

"The lack of adequate policies is a major stumbling block in achieving food security and sovereignty. It is high time that ASEAN governments hear our voices and demands," said Baladad.

"Land grabbing and land use conversions have become normal phenomena in the countryside," said Mohammed Ikhwan of Serikat Petani Indonesia.

He said farmers are losing their land because of mining, special economic zones, tourism, and real estate. "Our rights are continuously and systematically violated," he added.

La Via Campesina is pressing for the adoption of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in the Rural Areas in ASEAN member states.

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Top of the agenda of the first day of the summit was the enhancement of economic trade between ASEAN and Japan, the upgrading of existing free trade agreements, and discussions on regional economic partnerships.

Leftist activists, meanwhile, assailed U.S. President Donald Trump, one of about 20 world leaders attending the summit, for being the "CEO of the imperialist government of the U.S."

The Philippines had been under the colonial control of the United States for about 50 years until 1945.

Youth leader Einstein Recedes condemned what he called the "unholy alliance" between Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Trump.

Calling both Duterte and Trump as "fascists with unparalleled disdain for human rights," the youth leader said Trump's visit is set to further cement grossly lopsided U.S.-Philippine relations.

The youth leader said that, like Judas, Duterte has sold out the country to U.S. imperialism by allowing greater U.S domination and military presence in the country through joint military exercises and the building of U.S. military bases.

"Duterte is selling out the Philippines to his U.S. imperialist lord Trump as well as to rising imperialist powers like China and Russia," said Recedes.

ASEAN is a regional grouping that promotes economic, political, and security cooperation among its ten members: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

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