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ASEAN urged to include civil society in planning post-pandemic recovery

Civil society organizations on Friday urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to allow them to participate in planning for the region's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several organizations called on the ASEAN to provide spaces for "meaningful" civil society and child participation in addressing the crisis and future public health emergencies as the 10-nation bloc met during a Friday video conference.

"We as the civil society organizations will really need to request the ASEAN economic pillars to include everyone in the process of creating this post-pandemic recovery plan," said Rachel Arinii Judhistari, program manager at Forum-Asia.

"Because with the new normal principles, we cannot go back to the old way of governing economic operation in ASEAN. As we know it is really affecting most marginalized communities and not equal at all," she said at a virtual press conference.

When asked how the ASEAN could be "humanized," Charles Santiago, a member of Malaysia's parliament, explained that "what we could do is begin to think about our economy a bit differently."

He said the bloc has to consider moving away from an economy centered entirely on profit towards a "more distributive" one in which wealth is more equitably distributed and the most vulnerable communities are protected.

Draconian laws

In a joint statement, 45 civil society organizations from across the region also said that human rights violations, committed under the pretext of addressing COVID-19, have increased in the past six months, with the ASEAN failing to hold its member states accountable.

They had documented arbitrary arrests and detentions and violent crowd dispersals and said there were "draconian laws to curb free speech, censor online content, and silence political expression" in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

"Instead of promoting hatred and division resulting from pandemic-related fear and discrimination, ASEAN Member States should ensure equal access to health and social services, including COVID-19 testing and treatment, and protection for the most marginalized groups at state and regional levels," the organizations said.

"For ASEAN to be relevant to its people, it must demand accountability from its Member States to uphold the universal principles of human rights during and after the pandemic," they added.

Ambassador Noel Servigon said last month that the ASEAN was working on the mechanism for the establishment of a COVID-19 recovery fund. — DVM, GMA News