Pinoy CSOs to boycott dialogue with ASEAN heads of state

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (MindaNews/31 March) —  Filipino civil society groups decided on Saturday to boycott a dialogue here next week between civil society leaders and heads of states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as they condemned the interference by Cambodia and several  other member-states over the nomination process for the country representatives to the meeting.

In a letter addressed to President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, leaders and representatives of 17 Philippine civil society groups that joined a three-day regional people’s forum here formally declared to withdraw their participation from the interface meeting, which is scheduled on April 3 at Phnom Penh’s Peace Palace.

The meeting is among the sidelights of the 20th summit of ASEAN leaders and heads of states here on April 3-4. The group said they decided to pull out from the meeting in protest of the “undermining” by some ASEAN governments of genuine people’s participation in the region’s affairs.

“ASEAN leaders have pledged to create a people-oriented community of ASEAN nations. Yet some member states have been undermining the genuine participation of peoples in processes regarding matters that affect their lives,” the group said.

“As part of the independent civil society organization-led ASEAN Peoples Forum/ ASEAN Civil Society Conference (CSO-led APF/ ACSC) held 29-31 March 2012 at Lucky Star Hotel, Sangkat Phsar Deum Kor, Khan Toul Kork, Phnom Penh, we have decided not to participate in the interface organized by government-appointed NGOs,” they stressed.

Cambodia earlier rejected the traditional nomination and selection process for the annual dialogue that is done during the ACSC/APF. It instead asked its ASEAN colleagues to nominate their own civil society representatives and even backed a separate ACSC/APF organized by its favored groups at the government-owned Chaktomuk Conference Hall here.

Organizers of the Cambodia-backed ACSC/APF claimed they were given clearance by the ASEAN Secretariat through Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to nominate and select the country representatives for the scheduled ASEAN leaders’-civil society meeting.

Civil society sources said Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam have sent their chosen civil society representatives to the Cambodia-backed ACSC/APF.

But Indonesia and the Philippines reportedly chose not to nominate their own representatives and agreed to respect the selection process of the independent civil society groups.

Carmen Gatmaytan, project manager of the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), told MindaNews that President Aquino himself issued an assurance that the Philippine government will respect the ACSC/APF nomination process.

“The message was sent (to our group) through (Social Welfare) Secretary Dinky Soliman,” she said.

Aurora Corazon Parong, Amnesty International-Philippines director, separately confirmed to MindaNews that they received the President’s message through a text message from Sec. Soliman.

In their letter to the President, the group asserted “the importance of meaningful engagement by governments with the broadest number of stakeholders within the region on all aspects of the people-oriented ASEAN community that we envision to build.”

“We appreciate that the Philippine government respected our CSO (civil society organization) process but we are not sending any representative to this year’s interface in solidarity with the rest of civil society organizations in Southeast Asia whose processes were compromised by their governments,” the group said.

They also urged President Aquino to take the lead and set an example among ASEAN member states in recognizing and respecting the independent CSOs processes in selecting the representatives and in defining the agenda for the interface.

The group asked the President to “enjoin the Heads of State of all ASEAN member states to ensure that genuine participation of civil society organizations will never be again compromised.”

“We duly claim and would like to secure the space for CSOs in the Interface to bring forward the Southeast Asia Peoples’ Statement which covers wide-range of issues and substantive proposals consolidated during the ASEAN People’s Forum participated by around 1,000 epresentatives of peoples across Southeast Asia – not only limited to the pre-identified theme or agenda set by governments in the interface,” they added.

The Philippine delegation was composed of leaders and representatives of civil society groups WomanHealth, Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau (WLB), Philwomen on ASEAN, Society of Transsexual Pinays (STRAP), CRC-Asia, Gabriela, AMA-TFFS-APNFS, AFA, Civil Society Network for Education Reforms (E-Net Philippines), Amnesty International Philippines, SEACA, IID, Focus on the Global South-Philippines/Southeast Asia Program, Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Development (SEARICE), Labor Education and Research Network (LEARN), ASEAN Youth Movement and the Action for Economic Reforms. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)