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The global spread of CoVID-19 has caused an unprecedented global health crisis, with the number of infections and fatalities exponentially increasing each day.

Governments across the world, especially in the Southeast and South Asia region have implemented strict lockdowns, along with a mass deployment of troops and armed forces among urban and rural communities.

Such measures have propagated a repressive and ‘weaponized’ response to the pandemic; one that clearly prioritizes state interests and blatantly disregards public welfare and people’s rights. Worsening socio-economic conditions, an increase in human rights violations, and fast tracking of authoritarian laws has been the overall state-of-play, one that is being orchestrated and is hidden under the guise of emergency response.

Download our newest publication “Weaponized response of states to CoVID-19: Militarist trends in South Asia and Southeast Asia” to learn more about the ongoing trends in the region on their actions towards addressing CoVID-19.

Download here: bit.ly/WeaponizedResponse

#PolicyNote
#WeaponizedResponse

As being one of the biggest in Southeast Asian region, did you know that Bakun dam is an inundated 700 sq. kilometers of forest and farms in Sarawak region in Malaysia?

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American independence has been based on the enslavement of Native Americans and peoples of color domestically; the primacy of neoliberal globalization clothed with the tenets of liberal democracy; and, its foreign policy of imposing unfair trade relations and flexing its military power to maintain global hegemony.

The rise of US military dominance after World War II was in pursuit of its policy of containment and interventionism. Its alliance with 30 countries from Europe and North America through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has justified the maintenance of military bases and facilities across the world to ‘protect the people and the territories of its allies.’

While the declared purpose is to prevent conflict, the strategic positioning of US troops has served to preserve their economic interests by meddling in local affairs, diverting policies to ensure their gains, and interfering with the sovereignty of many independent nations.

A major effect of American troop presence has compromised several communities in the areas surrounding these bases. Reports of human rights violations have increased and counter-insurgency programs have harmed innocent civilians in the countryside.

Currently concerned with the rise of a rival superpower in China, the US has become more aggressive in its strategy of containment by beefing up its military settlements in the Asia Pacific to protect investments and ensure political influence in key countries. This dynamic concerning the two superpowers has affected nearby countries and partners, allowing both to set up undeclared alliances in a battle not just for positioning and regional dominance, but also for the probability of war.

On the day of American independence, APRN calls for the eviction of overt and covert US bases, military installations, and settlements in Asia Pacific. APRN also calls for a pull-out of US troops in the region and the termination of the incentivization of war. The Network calls for genuine independence from the US hegemonic agenda, as well as from similar powers such as China’s domineering tactics disguised as soft-power diplomacy.

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As we continue to struggle against one of the most recent global crises in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers continue to sacrifice their health and safety in exchange for livelihood. Government policies and big businesses are pushing forward and demanding immediate normalcy status, putting workers at a high risk of infection, all while public healthcare systems remain powerless against the pandemic.

On Wages

Government-sponsored quantitative data suggests that Southeast Asia is home to the world’s rising economies with the rise of GDPs annually. The backbone for this perceived economic growth is the cheap labor market rivaling that of China. Workers have always received the short end of the stick – being compensated with dismal wages; deprived of government-mandated benefits; having limited freedoms in the workplace, if any; and experiencing the worst working conditions.

In 9 out of 11 countries in Southeast Asia, as per national laws, registered workers earn a bare minimum of USD 3 to a little over USD 5 daily. This wage level does not guarantee decent living conditions, especially given the current situation. The minimum daily wage in 4 out of 11 countries range from USD 8 daily to USD 34 in Singapore, the city-state with one of the highest standards of living in the world. In general, women, migrant workers, indigenous peoples, and youth earn less than the minimum wage.

Cases of wage suppression and mass lay-offs have been rampant, with capitalist businesses prioritizing profit instead of employee livelihood and safety. Factory and office shutdowns have left daily-wage laborers with nothing, with amelioration and benefits not being provided in the midst of intensifying health and economic crises.

On Poverty

Poverty in the region is rife. As per modest 2018 estimates, there are about 170 million people living in poverty or below the poverty line in the sub-region. According to an ASEAN report on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in 2017, 36 million people were living below the poverty line and 90 percent of the Southeast Asian poor are concentrated in Indonesia and the Philippines (Chrisholm, November 21, 2017). Coincidentally, both countries currently have the highest numbers of cases for COVID-19 in Southeast Asia.

The pandemic has amplified the effects of poverty, making the poor the most vulnerable to the virus. Workers have experienced unprecedented job loss.

In Southeast Asia, at the onset of the CoVID-19 outbreak in March, Chinese special economic zones in Laos closed. Because flights to China and South Korea were canceled, Laos Airlines had to lay off 1,000 staff or half of its workers. Workers in Cambodia went on strike after their factory stopped its operations for a lack of inputs from China. More than 5,000 workers became unemployed because some factories had to close. Moreover, the president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation in Cambodia stated that 33 factories have shut. Consequently, 17,000 workers have been suspended to prevent possible virus outbreaks. Plants in Myanmar also began shutting down causing mass layoffs. Three textile and shoe factories in Yangon’s Shwepyithar and Hlaing Tharyar industrial zones also closed leaving 2,000 workers jobless (Chan, 2020).

According to IBON Foundation, with 2018 to 2019 data on the Philippine labor force, 18.9 million working Filipinos or 45 percent of the 42.4 million employed have been displaced by the community quarantine. This means that these Filipino workers have either lost their jobs, been relegated to do part-time work, received reduced pay, and experienced other disruptions in livelihood, especially by informal earners. About 7.7 million working families, however, haven’t received any aid from the government, plunging a significant portion of the population to deeper poverty (IBON Foundation, 2020).

As of May 1, the Indonesian Textile Association stated that two million garment factory workers in Indonesia have lost their jobs as their factories are operating at about 20 percent of capacity. In Cambodia, Heng Sour, spokesperson for the labor industry noted that jobless textile workers have reached 100,000. They used to run production in 130 factories. Myanmar’s current number of jobless factory workers has increased from 2,000 in March to 60,000 (Associated Press, May 1, 2020).

Coupled with repressive lockdowns and slow distribution of government assistance, there is utter neglect to the workers who toil and the other vulnerable sectors who need economic relief the most.

On Health

Based on 2017 data from the World Health Organization, only two countries in the region allocate more than 10 percent of the government budget to health spending, while the rest run from 3 percent to 9 percent of the total government spending. In light of this, public healthcare systems in the region have taken a huge hit. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the lack of preparation and prioritization of governments towards the healthcare sector, and the people are paying for it.

In 8 of 11 countries, out-of-pocket spending of current health expenditures range from 35 percent to 76 percent. Myanmar stands out with 76 percent out-of-pocket spending (2017 current health expenditures) while its citizens receive the lowest minimum wage at USD 3.32 per day. Trends in the data also suggest that the out-of-pocket expenses by citizens are conceivably larger than what their governments spend on healthcare itself.

At this point, wherein job loss is on the rise and earning even the minimum wage is not assured, we call on governments to be genuinely responsive to the needs of the workers and the marginalized groups.

Medical solutions should be more essential than repression in the implementation of community quarantines. People’s health should be prioritized instead of profit. In concrete terms, poor workers who comprise a large population of people in Southeast Asia should be given protection in the workplace and free healthcare. Provision of social amelioration to aid those who have lost jobs should be expedited.#

References:

Associated Press. (May 1, 2020). May Day marks pain, not celebration for workers hit by virus.
In Inquirer.net. Retrieved May 1, 2020, from
https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/…/may-day-marks-pain-not-cele…

Chan, Nandar. (March 8, 2020). Southeast Asia sees factory shutdowns and massive lay-offs
due to Covid-19 outbreak. In Radio Free Asia. Retrieved May 1, 2020 from

https://www.business-humanrights.org/…/southeast-asia-sees-…uxK4PaYOq5RRoop0n4owOTAxOgsf-vE

Chrisholm, Johanna. (November 21, 2017). Indonesia and the Philippines have 90% of Southeast Asia’s poorest. In Globe: Lines of Thought Across Southeast Asia. Retrieved
May 1, 2020, from https://southeastasiaglobe.com/indonesia-philippines-poore…/

IBON Media. (May 1, 2020). ECQ disrupts livelihood of 19M: Millions of working people left
behind by poor gov’t response. Retrieved May 1, 2020, from
https://www.ibon.org/millions-of-working-people-left-behi…/…

International Labor Organization. (7 April 2020). ILO: COVID-19 causes devastating losses in working hours and employment. Retrieved May 1, 2020, from https://www.ilo.org/…/n…/news/WCMS_740893/lang–en/index.htm

Violent dispersal of Indian authorities against Shaheen Bagh protestors on March 2020. The said protest camp was led by Muslim community to fight the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

Since the unprecedented lockdowns precipitated by the efforts to stop the spread of CoVID-19, governments have passed draconian laws restricting not only movement but also freedom of information. Worse, these laws are being used as a pre-text to silence and arrest regime critics. APRN believes that people’s rights should remain the fulcrum of pandemic response.

Inside:

Achieving the SDGs: PH CSO Proposals for Genuine People’s Development in the context of GSDR 2019

APRN joins CSOs, POs, and human rights defenders in fact finding mission in Palawan, Philippines

Global Pandemics And Food Insecurity: The Role Of IRRI And WTO – PANAP

Over 200,000 Women in Asia and the Pacific Join Women’s Global Strike – APWLD

On Palestine Land Day: The freedom of Palestine is the only remedy

Resist the US war of aggression in Iran – APRN

The Program on Building Democracy and Claiming Civic Spaces is committed to resisting militarism and fascism as well as uniting with CSOs and POs in the struggle against structures of oppression and inequality. Embedded in this Program is the Workstream on Militarism. The Workstream seeks to systematize the broad spectrum of work in terms of research, policy advocacy, information dissemination, campaign, and lobbying with the perspective of strengthening people’s movements and facilitating the voices and actions of marginalized sectors against militarism and fascism.

In line with this, the Asia Pacific Research Network accepted the invitation from Tanggol Magsasaka to join a fact-finding and peace mission in the heavily militarized island of Palawan in the Philippines. Tanggol Magsasaka is a broad platform of individuals, CSOs, and POs that advocate the general upliftment and development of the lives of rural-based sectors. The delegates of the fact-finding and peace mission range from international networks including IBON International and the People’s Coalition for Food Sovereignty to local and national platforms – Children’s Rehabilitation Center Inc., KARAPATAN – Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, PAMALAKAYA Pilipinas – National Federation of Small Fisherfolk in the Philippines, and KASAMA TK. 

Tanggol Magsasaka, collectively assessed and analyzed several cases of alleged human rights violations, threats and harassment to residents, and heavy militarization in affected barangays of Paly and Sitio Montevista Poblacion, Municipality of Taytay, Palawan Province. Included in the data-gathering is an investigation on the current situation of the people’s livelihood and how these the deteriorating human rights situation affect their holistic development. Part of the conduct also included media work to jumpstart the campaigns of and for the people in the area. 

General findings indicate that the presence of the 3rd Marine Brigade adversely affects the already dire situation of people. Palawan’s Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflicts (TF-ELCAC), a policy framework that seeks to implement Duterte’s EO 70 and Joint Campaign Plan Kapanatagan locally, has served as a blanket authorization for authorities to baselessly accuse local leaders of being rebels, arrest citizens without due process, and permit the presence of state forces in these barangays and in many other areas in Palawan. Since 2018, the elements of the Philippine Marines have been billeted in both barangays resulting in de facto martial law.

The trend of militarizing the countryside and the rise of Militarism on the global scale has been the result of the intensive competition between global and regional superpowers vying for dominance in each of their respective areas of control, planning to enlarge their scope and accumulate more wealth and power. This is indicative of the current neoliberal framework wherein the the primacy of wealth and power results in aggressive or overly-defensive military policies and strategies, which in turn churn-out local authoritarian policies that secure the profit of the few to the detriment of the majority. 

Fascist and authoritarian states enable the dictatorship of local authorities, hiding behind the facade of ‘development’ as justification for the collusion with companies that aim to grab resources with the use of force, be it state-sponsored or private. For instance, Guevent Investments Development Corp., a local corporation that seeks to establish a Bamboo Farm in an agricultural lot at the expense of the residents and farmers who depend on the said land for their livelihood. The local corporation asked for the help of local authorities to ensure their stake on the land, with the latter responding by deploying and concentrating armed forces in the nearby area. This partnership results in the extraction of wealth from the majority who are poor and the curtailment of people’s civil rights and liberties.

To be able to adapt to their current poor conditions and partly in response to the emergence of the military in their respective areas, the residents of Paly and Sitio Montevista, Poblacion; formed organizations, namely PAMALAKAYA-Paly and PLORMM (Pinagkaisang Lakas ng Okupante, Residents, Magsasaka, at Maralita) respectively, to cater to their specific socio-economic needs. For PAMALAKAYA, this includes successfully campaigning for against restrictions in fishing. For PLORMM, this entails consolidating their membership to ensure that their right to land and livelihood is being upheld by the municipal government and GIDC. For both people’s organizations, this is resistance against the attacks by the military, initiating dialogues with local authorities, and conducting cooperative activities for development. 

Despite this, it has become inevitable for the local authorities to react to the people’s push for civic space with excessive use of force. For instance, PAMALAKAYA-Paly was the object of reprisal for their successful campaigns that ensure that all residents on the island can fish freely and, consequently ensure income for their families. Since the people’s organization was at the forefront, they were threatened, harassed, and intimidated. In focus group discussions in Paly, at least 18 individuals were victims of false allegations and various forms of threats and intimidation by the 3rd Marine Brigade.

Similarly, PLORMM founder and Chairperson Norlie Bernabe was illegally arrested with trumped up murder charges. Soon after, other leaders were threatened by the elements of the 413rd Marine Brigade as they made rounds at the homes of PLORMM members and coerced them to sign questionable templated affidavit of surrender and a commitment not to join any organizational activities. A total of 17 cases were recorded during the mission. The Marine Brigade’s persistent harassment eventually led to the fracture of the organization. 

In both cases, it can be observed the space for CSOs and POs has shrunk as the people’s rights to organize are being curtailed. The relentless repression of local authorities with the state armed forces as their machinery has also endangered the lives of their family members. 

This is not an isolated case, it is clear that governments around the Asia-Pacific prioritize the accumulation of power and profit; and deals with transnational corporations more than the people’s welfare, that these institutions are willing to use brute force towards the helpless for their own selfish interests. 

The same trends can be observed in India and Indonesia, with military spending taking up a large chunk of both countries’ national budgets. The jingoistic nationalism by the Indian government comes at the expense of the autonomous residents of Kashmir and Jammu, who are negatively affected by the military forces barging in a sovereign territory, culminating into a civil war. Likewise, Indonesia’s claim on West Papua has hindered self-determination for its locals, with an ongoing civil war between the Indonesian military and the West Papuan armed movement. Due to this local organizations for self determination are being tagged as insurgents, and are treated as such. The excessive use of force has already been documented across the region. Harassment and persecution of peasants, human rights defenders, environmental rights defenders, and activists, as well as cases of enforced disappearances, has been the normative response by state-forces. Dissent is now considered a criminal offense. Human rights abuses and violations have become more rampant, with a growing number of victims at a very alarming rate and the normalized use of the military as a tool for repression towards civilians only makes it worse. 

Militarism is rapidly becoming normalized due to the dominant neoliberal world, and shall further breed conflict and repression, be it externally with other nations, or internally with its own people; as long as the roots of this imperialist and expansionist ideology are not addressed.#

References:

Fact Finding Mission

Children’s Rehabilitation Center
Feb 19-20, 2020

Fact Finding Mission Report

Tanggol Magsasaka

Useful Links:

Tanggol Magsasaka: Tanggol Magsasaka network concludes fact-finding mission in Taytay, Palawan

Author: PAMALAKAYA: National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines

Source: AngPamalakaya.org (https://angpamalakaya.org/2020/02/23/tanggol-magsasaka-tanggol-magsasaka-network-concludes-fact-finding-mission-in-taytay-palawan/?fbclid=IwAR1jHxx1B2QdpQ8iI2yeG2hCsq0r5ProsRrIPRjoHF4bCLBeLfs_X-aGkHI)

Date: February 23, 2020

Amid impact of Fisheries Code and Duterte’s EO70: Amihan denounces harassment vs. fisherfolk, peasant families in Taytay, Palawan

Author: Amihan: National Federation of Peasant Women

Source: amihanwomen.org

(https://amihanwomen.org/2020/02/24/amid-impact-of-fisheries-code-and-dutertes-eo70-amihan-denounces-harassment-vs-fisherfolk-peasant-families-in-taytay-palawan/?fbclid=IwAR3uXVCGV5VKXT0DGQxYnNW419ff3qkZ3J_7rvEBZHzaJ7k6wxasFXUBW2w)

Date: February 24, 2020

Anakpawis slams continuing abuses against Fisherfolk and Farmers in Taytay, Palawan 
Author: Anakpawis PL 

Source: Anakpawis.net

Date: February 23, 2020

Amid impact of Fisheries Code and Duterte’s EO70: Amihan denounces harassment vs. fisherfolk, peasant families in Taytay, Palawan

Author: Amihan: National Federation of Peasant Women

Source: amihanwomen.org

(https://amihanwomen.org/2020/02/24/amid-impact-of-fisheries-code-and-dutertes-eo70-amihan-denounces-harassment-vs-fisherfolk-peasant-families-in-taytay-palawan/?fbclid=IwAR3uXVCGV5VKXT0DGQxYnNW419ff3qkZ3J_7rvEBZHzaJ7k6wxasFXUBW2w)

Date: February 24, 2020

Network exposes rights abuses vs Philippine Fisherfolk and Farmers in Palawan

Author: People’s Coalition for Food Sovereignty Global

Source: FoodSov.org (http://foodsov.org/network-exposes-rights-abuses-vs-ph-fisherfolk-farmers-in-palawan/?fbclid=IwAR3YoHxdrdB23QKqnYi9u84BWPYz9D7QZE7PmZ_Gz4IgvLk6S9bTYulfhVs)

Date: February 24, 2020

Palawan fisherfolk lament fishing regulation, harassment by state agents

Author: Bulatlat

Source: Bulatlat.com (https://www.bulatlat.com/2020/02/25/palawan-fisherfolk-lament-fishing-regulation-harassment-by-state-agents/?fbclid=IwAR34rAgxaV83KvNKMIJLon4Ctsuf-D-xV3ahkb0gxB2JHgTvwEgm3q5A4r4)

Date: February 25, 2020

Int’l coalition: PH farmers, fisherfolks starved to displace them from island province

Author: People’s Coalition for Food Sovereignty Global

Source: FoodSov.org (http://foodsov.org/intl-coalition-ph-farmers-fisherfolks-starved-to-displace-them-from-island-province/?fbclid=IwAR2o15Zn-P6VBdrZhklBNj6kOpYe-SNV4ti_8qkHD8yVGtGJpYVl_RfmnQ0)

Date: February 26, 2020 

Fact-finding mission finds heavy military presence in Taytay, Palawan

Author: Stacy Ang

Source: Current PH.com (https://currentph.com/2020/02/27/fact-finding-mission-finds-heavy-military-presence-in-taytay-palawan/?fbclid=IwAR0nCBXdY2TopCnpxNuitCNmyRznidvd25hY56l2X2ug3A78dvbrkSPbNTA)

Date: February 27, 2020 

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