IN NOVEMBER 2015, Manila in the Philippines hosted an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.
Civil society mobilised to protest against the meeting. There are cogent reasons why people were so angered by APEC and what it represents.
Here in Papua New Guinea we should be similarly outraged as the same reasoning applies.
Ahead the Manila summit, Philippines’ social movements, unions, indigenous groups, farmers’ organisations and international activists mobilised to protest against the two-day annual meeting.
But why were so many people in the Philippines and around the world infuriated by the APEC summit?
Here are four reasons:
Firstly, over the years, APEC economic development has worsened poverty and inequality while strengthening corporate power.
APEC pushes free trade, deregulation and privatisation in the name of building economies in the Asia-Pacific region. But the claimed benefits of neoliberal globalisation promoted by APEC have been empty promises for poor and working people.
While APEC economies swell and transnational corporations reap major profits, the purported trickle-down of wealth and increased opportunities for those who need them most has never been realised. Poverty, inequality, and misery haven’t decreased as promised—they have increased.
“Only the big nations are reaping the rewards of globalisation under APEC, not the Philippines," said Teddy Casino, former member of the Philippine Congress and a leader of the People’s Campaign Against APEC and Imperialist Globalisation.
After years of unequal development, groups in the Philippines and beyond united to reject more of the same policies that destined so many people to poverty and marginalisation.
Second, APEC listens and responds to corporate interests not to the needs of workers, farmers and indigenous people.
As APEC leaders met with global corporate shakers, the demands of the Philippines’ indigenous people and working class continued to fall on deaf ears.
“It’s appalling that our own government was much more willing to listen to foreign investors in the APEC summit,” said Datu Jomorito Goaynon, spokesperson of a protest known as Manilakbayan.
Third, poor and homeless people were detained in the name of “cleaning up” Manila for APEC.
As the Philippines aimed to put its best foot forward and show off its developmental gains to visiting APEC leaders, Manila’s poor and homeless—among the global losers of APEC policies—were rounded up and taken out of sight ahead of the summit.
Over 140 street children were rounded up in what the government called “rescue operations” in the week leading up to APEC. At least 20,000 homeless people were removed from the streets of Manila. Road closures across the city put the chaotic city into a tranquil state for arriving world leaders while creating transit challenges for locals.
Fourth, APEC economic doctrine promotes resource exploitation and environmental destruction.
While APEC 2014 put climate change in the spotlight, many of the bloc’s economic policies have had negative impacts on the environment and threaten to worsen climate change.
Trade deregulation promoted by APEC has enabled massive corporate sell-offs of land and increased the ease with which transnational corporations can exploit resources and open mining concessions around the world, often with grave environmental impacts for local communities who don’t see any economic benefits from the projects.
In the Philippines, mining corporations mostly from Australia and Canada have been granted massive permits for millions of hectares of land to extract minerals and precious metals.
“We all know this means further poverty, destruction of the environment and incessant militarisation in areas where resistance against development aggression flourish,” said Datu Jomorito Goaynon.
Fifth, the cost of the APEC summit was huge, and Filipino people bore the brunt of it.
The Philippine government allotted a budget of over US$200 million, a huge amount for a country whose GDP is about US$330 billion.
What’s more, total costs to the economy were considerable as a result of the government shutting down factories and declaring national holidays and cancelling over 1,000 flights to avoid airport congestion during the summit.
As Francisco Tatad asked in a Manila Times article, “Should a sizable number go to bed without food, just because they were laid off their daily work by the great economic summit?”
What can we expect in Port Moresby next year?