By: Jun Ledesma
Columnist, Philippines News Agency


The ASEAN block

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte is flying to Singapore to attend the 32nd Regional Summit of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations. This will be a good time and opportunity to tackle vital issues that impacts on the number of member nations.

I am referring to the most recent action of the European Union to ban palm oil in EU. Hard hit are Indonesia and Malaysia which are the world’s biggest planter of African palm. The EU parliament wants a total ban of palm oil in biofuel production but a chain of Supermarket Iceland had declared that it will remove palm oil from its food brands.

Indonesia, which is the world’s biggest palm oil exporter, is hit in the solar plexus, but it is not taking the blow sitting down. It has threatened to cut trade with EU if the ban is not lifted and the biggest loser is Airbus which was supposed to ink a multi-billion contract with Indonesia. Hundreds of Britishers will lose their lucrative jobs at Airbus as a result of the retaliatory move of Indonesia. We will watch the development on this side show.

Both Indonesia and Malaysia are not buying the reasons behind the ban. EU had subscribed to the report of Greenpeace, a non-government environment activist organizations, that vast tracks of forest lands in Indonesia and Malaysia had been burned to give way to African palms. Greenpeace alleged that carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere created a greenhouse effect contributing immensely to climate change. The two ASEAN members, however, rejected the environmental issue claiming that its a clear issue of protectionism. Indeed this issue is a lot of hogwash. The last time I heard of environmental degradation they were blaming the heavy industrialization in Europe, America, China and India. Why the sudden shift? If you do not call that protectionism that must be an act of “crop apartheid” as described by Indonesia.

If the European Union threatens the 65-billion pounds of Indonesia and Malaysia palm oil market, the Philippines is being condemned by some members of the EU because of its unrelenting campaign against criminal and drug syndicates. Local and New York-based Human Rights Watch non-government organizations banner the extrapolated death statistics which they claimed are victims of extra-judicial killings. EU parliamentarians had the temerity to interfere in purely domestic affairs of the Philippines as though they have the license to intrude anytime the wish. Not during the regime of Duterte. The President had explicitly sent a strong message worldwide that the Philippines is a soveriegn state and foreign intervention has no place in the country for as long as he is President.

The EU parliament must understand that the Philippines, for one, is fighting its own domestic problems from many fronts. Criminality and drug problems were abetted by the previous Aquino administration. Corruption was institutionalized driving the country to the edge of a failed state. While EU declared the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New Peoples Army it harbors its leader, Jose Ma. Sison, by giving him asylum, the EU never minded the fact that the chieftain of the CPP/NPA orders assault not only on the Philippine military and police installation but also on private agricultural enterprises and government road contractors. It does not help that the EU, through their designated beneficiary foundations, also to send dollar grants to human rights NGOs which do not hesitate to exaggerate stories to merit these grants.

Sadly members of parliaments would rather believe these fairy tales while disregarding the indelible fact that 83% of Filipinos express satisfaction on performance of President Duterte. Worse the EU gave premium to the myths of fugitives Edgar Matobato and Arturo Lascanas, alleged whistle blowers, who “confessed” to the murder of more than 1200 victims of extra-judicial killings which they buried in an abandoned quarry but cannot locate any skeletal remains. The duo also claimed they are members of the Davao Death Squad, which they said was organized by Duterte. This, is of course a Grand prevarication which they added to spice up their story. The truth is DDS was conceptualized in 1983 by Police Regional Commanded, Col. Dionisio Tan-gatue Jr. It was a ghost force and part of psychological warfare used by the officer to combat the “Sparrows” – the liquidation squad of the CPP/NPA. At that time Duterte was still a barrister at San Beda law school.

Back to the ASEAN summit, it is about time that the members should address the nonchalance of the Western countries on the plight of its member countries. As a solid block ASEAN can collectively assert its soveriegn rights and tell the west “we are no longer your colonies”. That the similarity of our cultures regardless of religious differences does not come in the way of ASEAN solidarity. That we have to realign our political alliances with our immediate neighbors like China, Japan and India because of the indifference of the West is an option that no western alliances can deter by force or intimidation.

If EU bans ASEAN palm oil then it can shift to China, Russia Japan, India, Pakisan and other Asian countries. If the West refuses to sell arms to the Philippines, then it can source these from Russia and China. The universal truth and political reality after all is that the strongest existing and emerging economies are in this part of the globe.



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