Moderated voices in ASEAN, protest rallies against Trump

Observing its 50th year of existence, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) edged slightly onward on a raft of previously agreed plans, blueprints, treaties, and consensual agreements, cited in 144 items of the Chairman’s Statement, at the end of its 31st Summit held in Manila on Nov. 13-14. As official host, President Duterte presided over the summit as chairman.

To be sure, nobody in the know expected any dramatic clash of views on certain publicly discussed issues involving the Asean or any of its 10 member-nations. This is owed to the member-states’ adherence to the overarching principle of “non-interference in each other’s internal affairs” and emphasis on the values of “moderation, tolerance, mutual understanding, dialogue, respect for diversity, and inclusiveness towards achieving peace, security, and harmony in the region.”

For instance, China came away from the summit without any mention of its controversial construction of heavily armed artificial islands in disputed areas of the South China Sea. It only committed to start negotiations next year on a Code of Conduct among the claimant parties (with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei) that had already been called for in 2002 in the non-binding Declaration on the Conduct of Parties. Talks on the framework for such a code began in 2011, but agreement on the framework was arrived at only last August. And China, as an Asean partner, simply promised to work towards concluding the negotiations “as soon as possible.”

The summit was also silent on the worldwide outcries over human rights violations against the Rohingya people in Myanmar, tagged by the United Nations as “ethnic cleansing,” and on the extrajudicial killings related to President Duterte’s “war on illegal drugs,” which the UN has also strongly criticized. Only Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the EJK issue in his bilateral meeting with President Duterte and told the media about it. Duterte told the media that he would answer only to the Filipinos. “I will never, never allow a foreigner to question me. It’s a personal and official insult,” he said.

But let me dwell on another aspect of the Asean summit meeting in Manila: the visit of and the series of mass protest actions against the visit of US President Donald Trump, including two march-rallies that the police forces effectively intercepted and tried to disperse, leading to violent clashes. These incidents were much commented upon, sometimes negatively, especially in the social media.

A reply to the various criticisms has been posted on Facebook by Renato Reyes Jr., secretary-general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), which coordinated the protest actions. Here’s an abridged version of his post (which I translated from Pilipino):

We respect the varied and conflicting viewpoints expressed. To our countrymen who seriously ask and wish to understand what’s happening, allow us to avail of this opportunity to explain our stand on the following questions:

“Why do you need to rally during the Asean summit, where we’ve got foreign guests?”

Donald Trump is no ordinary “guest.” He has brought a peculiar danger to our nation. He wants to drag us into the [US] conflict with North Korea. He wants to restore the US military bases in our country. And to what end? Not to provide us protection or security but to enable his government to maintain American imperialist hegemony in the [Asia-Pacific] region.

Trump and Duterte talked about negotiating a ‘free trade agreement” (FTA), which can really be detrimental to our economy. Why? The US has a gigantic industrialized economy, while our industry and our agriculture are comparatively weak. We would be at great disadvantage under the proposed FTA. Trump also aims to deport numerous Filipinos residing in America, through his unjustly restrictive immigration policy. On all of these issues, we needed to protest Trump’s visit.

“You’re anti-American but you eat/drink McDo.”

First, we are not “anti-American” in the simplistic, shallow sense – the type who would burn everything made in the USA. We’re not like that. What we oppose is interference by the US government in our national affairs. We detest, we reject imperialist domination. We have many comrades and friends who are Americans. We watch US movies once in a while; we listen to their music. What we have been opposing are US government policies towards our country and people.

Ergo, as regards McDo, that’s non sequitur. It’s just like you saying that if you got an iPhone you can no longer criticize Trump. Or if you consume Ma-Ling, you can no longer rebuke China. Or once you used a cellphone, you can no longer assail the abuses of the mining industry.

That’s putting the issues too simplistically and trivializing the discussion. Tagging rallyists as “hypocrites” comes too easily. Can’t we just say we drink McDo because we are thirsty?

“Rallyists are to blame for the violence.”

Not all rallies end in confrontation… But there are instances when the police employ severe fascist methods. It leads to physical conflict. Once you are confronted by thousands of policemen with their shields and truncheons, police and firetrucks behind them as barriers, and they tell you, “Obey or else… don’t get any closer or you’ll get hurt…” that’s fascism. It’s blatant use of state power against the citizens. Once we’re confronted with fascism, it’s our duty to resist and fight for our rights.

“You’re paid-for rallyists! You’re Yellows!”

Over the 25 years I’ve been an activist, never have I or any of my colleagues received any payment from anyone for rallying. We are fulltime activists. We do not have salaries, only small allowances way below the minimum wage. We carry on with our political work voluntarily. Those who accuse us of getting paid to rally are free to present evidence.

“We need the US.”

We need to question the prevailing relations of our country with big foreign countries, such as the US. For decades we have leaned on the US for support, yet we haven’t truly progressed. We’ve been left behind by our neighboring nations. Now comes China, but it seems our government behaves toward it in the same way. China will likely also take advantage of us.

We supported the independent policy declaration of Duterte last year, but he has executed a turnabout. He’s back to the old foreign policy of subservience to foreign interests. The President we dialogued with in July 2017 was no longer the President we had discussions with in July 2016.

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Published in Philippine Star
Nov. 18, 2017

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