Thursday, October 30, 2008

The people’s agenda

The 7th Asian Europe People’s Forum (AEPF) held in Beijing two weeks ago came up with resolutions and recommendations that were sent to the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) of heads of state and policy makers who also held their gathering in Beijing a week later. I was at AEPF—the people’s version—which had for its theme “Social and Ecological Justice” and which preceded ASEM.

The final version of the 2008 AEPF resolutions have been sent to ASEM and I hope the leaders and policy makers who attended ASEM would take heed. After all, AEPF, since its inception 14 years ago, has been issuing warnings against neo-liberalism, globalization and the like. With the Sept. 2008 financial melt-down that changed the world, there is reason for the smart alecks of finance to heed voices from the underside.

AEPF consists of social movements from Europe and Asia with networks in communities, organizations and individuals committed to working for a just and equal world. AEPF’s “people’s agenda” is based on four fundamental principles”: the promotion of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights; the promotion of environmentally, socially and economically sustainable patterns of development; greater economic and social equity and justice (including equality between women and men); and the active participation of civil society organizations (CSO) in democratic life and decision-making process of their countries.

With the current global financial crisis affecting everyone on this planet, AEPF is urging leaders to give special attention to the poorest, the excluded and the marginalized.

The call is to use the opportunity presented by the current financial and political crises to put in place an alternative, repeat, an alternative financial architecture and infrastructure that will promote and enable a “more equitable, carbon neutral and just global economic system, reclaiming national development policy rights and empowering working people. Financial institutions and financial decision-making must become truly accountable and transparent.”

The resolutions are grouped into 1)social and economic rights, 2)finance, 3)taxation, 4)public spending and investment, 5) environment, 6)participatory democracy and human rights, and 7)peace and security.

Given the limited space, I can only highlight a few resolutions.

One of the calls related to social and economic rights is “respect the right to food and healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods that protect biodiversity.” The melamine scare spawned in China’s food industry is indeed a wake-up call.

I was in the well-attended workshop on food security and food sovereignty and I managed to put in my voice on behalf of the fisherfolk (because land-based food production seemed to get all the attention). Given that cue, Pablo Gonzales of Kilusang Mangingisda found his voice and called attention to the plight of the fisherfolk who are among the most neglected sectors in the Philippines.

With that intervention, the word fisherfolk found its way into the resolutions. “Food producers and fisherfok should have access to and control over the means of production (land, seeds, water, appropriate technology). There must be full recognition of the rights and role of women in food production.”

With many women’s CSO present that line on women and food was bound to find its way in. But just as important is the “implementation of agrarian reform programs, strengthening local food production and consumption, diversification, controls on agribusiness and decreasing dependence on international markets, and support small holder agriculture and sustain peasant farmers and indigenous communities.”

And because of the current food crisis, included too is the call for “a moratorium on grain and food-based agro-fuel production.”

Finance and public spending and investment were much discussed topics among participants who stayed up late nights to hear out one another and the experts as well. Here are some resolutions:

“Create people-based banking institutions and strengthen existing popular forms of lending based on mutuality and solidarity; institutionalize full transparency within the financial system through the opening of the books to the public, to be facilitated by citizen and worker organizations; introduce parliamentary and citizens’ oversight of the existing banking system.

“Redirect government spending from bailing out bankers to guaranteeing basic incomes and social security…invest massively in improved energy efficiency, low carbon emitting public transport, renewable energy and environmental repair; introduce incentives for products produced for sale closest to the local market.”

As to the environment, there is a call to: “Develop decentralized, renewable energy sources to combat climate change and contribute to sustainable development. Implement legislation that will support all citizens in reducing their energy consumption. Stop the development of carbon trading and other environmentally counter-productive techno-fixes, such as carbon capture and sequestration, agrofuels, nuclear power and ‘clean coal’ technology.”

There is a lot more on the environment and the other six main issues. Policy makers and legislators could find leads in the AEPF7 document by accessing its website. There is a lot to be done to give those words a human expression.

This All Souls and All Saints weekend is a special time to remember the dead, especially those who gave up their lives for the truth. I remember my fellow journalists who raged against the dying of the light and pushed their pens to the edge so that this benighted country may emerge closer to the light. Their passing may have left as diminished in a way but their courage continues to light our way in the wilderness.