11 Aug, 2015
Manila — About 150 leading global NGO activists and social movement leaders will meet in Quezon City, the Philippines, between August 13-14 to discuss the downsides of Asia’s growth paradigm and chart strategies to help alternative perspectives get more traction in the mainstream development agenda.
Under the theme “Whose New Asia?”, the International Conference on Peoples’ Struggles and Alternatives will take a hard look at everything that the burgeoning global travel & tourism industry prefers to sweep under the carpet: Growing inequality, climate and environmental injustice, the negative impacts of capitalism, free trade and neoliberalism, public health, human rights and democracy, corruption, governance, accountability, deglobalisation, food sovereignty, land-grabs, shrinking democratic spaces, political repression, rising militarism, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, criminalization of dissent and more.
Although each of those critical issues poses a potential threat to its operating environment, the travel & tourism industry, one of the top economic drivers of Asia’s “success story,” prefers to keep them out of conference agendas, which are excessively dominated by social media, branding, marketing, facilitation and accessibility. Nor do the early-warning views and policy proposals of “alternative thinkers” get any space in travel industry media (with the sole exception of Travel Impact Newswire). Industry leaders prefer to ignore critics and potential critics as “negative thinkers” who could muddy up the waters by challenging the gurus of conventional-wisdoms.
The Manila conference marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of Focus on the Global South, a leading civil society watchdog group that operates out of one of Asia’s leading educational institutions, Chulalongkorn university in Bangkok, with offices in New Delhi, Phnom Penh and Manila. Says Focus on its website, “This conference is an important space to celebrate milestones, foster dialogues about the future, renew unities, strengthen solidarities, and forge new partnerships. We look forward to working together with present and future allies to build a better tomorrow.”
The Focus conference comes at a crucial time when the United Nations has completed drafting a new “People’s Agenda” for the post-2015 era, replacing the former Millennium Development Goals with a new set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals. At the same time, the integrated ASEAN Community is set to take effect from 2016 but the integration process is dominated by a lopsided emphasis on economic development, with far less attention being paid to the socio-cultural and political-security blueprints.
According to Focus on the Global South, this is the context against which the 20th anniversary conference is being held:
“Asia is experiencing persisting inequalities, social, economic and political injustices and environmental destruction amidst remarkable economic growth. Leaving Europe behind as a hub of dollar billionaires, this New Asia is a region of tremendous wealth and has seen the rise of mega cities, special economic zones for manufacturing and hi-tech industries, as well as increased investments from transnational corporations.
“However, deep pockets of poverty and widespread inequality within and between its rural and urban areas have also increased and intensified, with the economic boom largely having been built on intense exploitation of its human and natural resources by states and corporations.
“For over two decades, free trade and investment agreements have been central instruments for governments across Asia to pursue their development plans. In the Asia-Pacific region, the number of bilateral Free Trade Agreements increased more than 500 percent over the past decade. The 2008 global economic crisis led to unprecedented trade contraction — particularly affecting countries well-integrated into the global economy — put into serious question the viability of export-led economic development as the engine of sustainable economic growth.
“In the aftermath of the crisis, however, major economies in the region seemed to have made only small adjustments in their trade and economic policies, albeit reflecting a more aggressive push towards trade and investment liberalization via these bilateral and regional agreements.
“An alarming rise in land, water and natural resources grabbing across the region has been spurred by agricultural, industrial, infrastructure and financial investments, real estate booms, urbanization and extractive industries. Agro-industrial food regimes are hastening the erosion of indigenous seeds and their replacement by hybrids or genetically engineered varieties, which negatively impact overall biodiversity.
“As landscapes are privatized and natural resources commoditised and sold in distant markets, entire communities are being dispossessed of their homes, wealth and assets and being pushed into precarious livelihoods. Distress out-migration from rural areas has increased, and rich and diverse local agricultural traditions and knowledge that sustain biodiversity and environmental health are being lost.
“Climate change and climate-induced disasters pose another major challenge to many Asian countries and their citizens, compounding existing vulnerabilities and creating new ones—with differentiated impacts across class, gender, ethnicities and geographical locations. Dubbed as the ‘new normal,’ the rapidly changing climate hinders peoples’ capacities to sustain their lives and to build resilient communities.
“As the impacts of climate change expand and intensify, the poor, who already lack access to productive resources face more social and economic suffering. Land, water and forests already threatened by investment projects and trade agreements are made further vulnerable to market capture through carbon financing and emissions trading schemes such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and the green economy.
“There is limited recognition among policy makers of the dangers of the extractivist development model pursued by most governments, especially about how it exacerbates the climate crisis and its far-reaching impacts on peoples and environments. Those who advocate for alternative approaches are branded as security threats acting against their societies and nations. Human rights violations are a major concern in Asia. Peoples’ resistance to development aggression has been met with shrinking democratic spaces, political repression, rising militarism, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and criminalization of dissent. Indigenous peoples, undocumented migrants, stateless peoples and refugees face further marginalization and exclusion.”
According to Focus, “A crucial task now is to strengthen and re-energize civil society and social movements, and support the building of new development paths and social-economic alternatives.” As such, the conference is intended to achieve the following goals:
• Provide a space for collective reflection and discussion on development in Asia and the world, and the state of peoples’ resistance and alternatives.
• Draw out examples, cases, and narratives of peoples’ alternatives along key themes of economy and finance, commons, nature, environment and climate, democracy and human rights, and social movements and power.
• Gather inputs and suggestions for Focus’ work over the next five years, in terms of research, analysis and collaborations with social movements, grassroots partners, academe, media, policy makers and development partners.
The conference will open with a keynote address entitled “A Backward Glance, A Forward Look” by Dr. Walden Bello, a former Executive Director of Focus and now a Philippines Member of Parliament. He will give a 30-minute speech on the state of Asia’s economy and will offer a comprehensive critique of the development model that governments have taken and alternatives to this model.
In addition to the plenaries, the conference will feature a number of World Café Workshops designed to generate lively discussions around the question and issue of peoples’ alternatives on four themes: alternative economic and financial system, the commons, climate and environmental justice, and social movement, organizing, strategies and engagements. The Café is built on the premise that people already have within them the experience, knowledge/wisdom and creativity to confront even the most difficult challenges.
Other themes will include An Indigenous Peoples’ Perspective on what “good development” means based on principles of safeguarding their closeness to nature, collective leadership, communal ownership of property, equal status in society, the ‘good fedew’ as basis of justice, peace and development, and Lumut Minanga or progressive pluralism.
A panel discussion on the theme, “Struggle for Alternatives Across the Globe and Implications to Asia” will feature activists and thinkers from Europe and Latin America to tackle current events in their regions such as the Euro crisis, struggles of movements to protect biodiversity and the commons, and the global campaign to forge legally binding international instruments to tame the power of Transnational Corporations (TNCs).
The final plenary will tackle the key big ideas and emerging narratives or discourses around peoples’ alternatives such as feminist economics/alternatives, commons and food sovereignty, global justice, systemic alternatives with a focus on climate justice and Buen Vivir, and new politics. Speakers will be asked to comment on the synthesis from their particular positions: What can they add to make these ideas richer? How can their ideas be put into practice to shape/build a different Asia? What are the priorities for action?
Says Focus, “We are embarking on a new program of work in 2015-2017 called ‘Peoples’ Alternatives for Asia’. We shall continue our monitoring and critiques of neoliberalism, economic and financial globalisation, privatization, corporate-driven trade and investments, control and destruction of natural resources, and rights violations, but as we interrogate and expose these issues, we shall also strengthen the promotion of different kinds of alternatives and peoples’ resistances. Across Asia, social movements, peasants, indigenous peoples, workers and others envision a more just world, and are taking steps to make that world a reality.”
Other speakers at the conference include:
(+) Premrudee Daoroung, Co-director, Toward Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA), Thailand
(+) Henry Saragih, Chairman, Indonesian Peasant Union (SPI- Serikat Petani Indonesia)
(+) Amit Sengupta, People’s Health Movement, India
(+) Lidy Nacpil, Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD), the Philippines
(+) Max de Mesa, Chairman, Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
(+) Jenina Joy Chavez, Action for Economic Reforms (AER)
(+) Charles Santiago, Member of Parliament-Malaysia
(+) Nutchanart Thanthong, Four Regions Slum Network, Thailand
(+) Christophe Aguiton, ATTAC-France
(+) Silvia Ribeiro, Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC), Latin America.
(+) Brid Brennan, Transnational Institute, The Netherlands
(+) Marina Durano, University of the Philippines Asian Center
(+) Peter Rosset, La Via Campesina, Mexico
(+) Pablo Solón, Fundación Solón, Bolivia
(+) Seema Mustafa, Editor-in-Chief, The Citizen, India
(+) Timuay Santos Unsad, Timuay Justice and Governance, Philippines
(+) Polly Jones, Global Justice Now, UK
Focus on the Global South’s work has been supported over the past 20 years by ActionAid, American Jewish World Service, Asia Partnership for Human Development BILANCE, Boyd Reimer, Bread for the World, CAFOD, Canada Fund, CCFD-Terre Solidaire, Christian Aid, Chula Unisearch, Community Aid Abroad, CORDAID, Department for International Development UK DanChurchAid, Development and Peace, Diakonia, DKA Austria, EED, European Commission, Fastenopfer, Ford Foundation, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Philippines, Friends of the Earth USA, Global Witness, Grassroots International, Heinrich Boll Foundation, HIVOS, Institute on Governance, ICCO, Inter Pares, Japan Foundation, KEPA, McArthur Foundation, McKnight Foundation MISEREOR, Nautilus, Oxfam America, Oxfam Australia, Oxfam GB, Oxfam Hong Kong, Oxfam NOVIB, Oxfam Solidarity, Oxfam UKI, Peace Development Fund Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation Siemenpuu, Solidago Foundation, The Development GAP, The United Methodist Church 11.11.11, Transnational Institute, Trocaire, World Council of Churches World Development Movement/ Isvara Foundation.
Find out more about Focus on the Global South and how to support its work by visiting www.focusweb.org