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Rep. Bello warns against 2015 ASEAN integration

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Dr. Walden F. Bello, Akbayan Party List Representative, was guest speaker in the forum “ASEAN Integration in 2015” hosted by CPAf held last 14 February 2014 at the Operations Room, Abelardo Samonte Hall. The forum culminated the week-long series of activities in celebration of CPAf’s 16th anniversary. Known for his anti-globalization and social activist stance, Dr. Bello delivered his message on “ASEAN Economic Community:  A Critical Perspective” tracing its beginnings in 1967 with the intention to become a major economic bloc patterned after the regional integration plan of Latin America.

He said that the ASEAN Industrial Complementation Scheme and the ASEAN Industrial Projects were launched but these did not result in region-wide investment projects. Neither did private businesses in ASEAN benefit from these programs as mainly Japanese companies were involved and narrowly focused on electronic products.  He noted that wide regional distribution of labor was observed but not the one envisioned. APEC was formed to make sure that ASEAN will not be marginalized, but it never became a reality. With ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, the country continued to maintain the quota on rice imports. Purely free trade arrangements existed with no investment to build a region-wide industrial base and a free-flow of skilled (not unskilled) labor. The state, he stressed, needed an industrial policy and a more active role to play in promoting industries.

Further on, he pointed out that trade liberalization devastated the manufacturing sector especially the shoe making industry. Rice farmers opposed it as government subsidy in agriculture has been very low unlike in many countries including US, Europe, and some ASEAN countries, which heavily subsidized their agriculture. The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) blueprint is found biased towards the business elites and does not contain protection policies for labor.  It is deaf towards migrant labor and environment, he added.

As the deadline for the 2015 ASEAN integration draws near, he expressed his reservations on the Philippines’ readiness on such move, echoing the same sentiment expressed by former Prime Minister Mahathir of Malaysia. On this note, he called on policymakers to review policies for the last 30 years and to act on the needed measures that will support the development of local industries and agriculture.  He impressed the importance of reducing poverty, identifying key industries, and engaging active participation by civil society.  Among the policy imperatives mentioned were the conclusion of asset transfer and provision of support systems under the agrarian reform program.

On the impact of the ASEAN integration on education, Dr. Bello acknowledged that flow of expertise, professionals, and students will increase. This, he said, needs to be matched by standardization of curricula among ASEAN. However, this is hardly discussed and will take long years to put in place. This supports the view of UPLB Vice Chancellor Oscar B. Zamora who, despite expressed optimism, mentioned in his opening remarks the need for education programs to undergo accreditation, with consideration of adding ASEAN perspective in existing as well as new courses and programs to be instituted.

The forum was attended by representatives from the Los Baños Science Community, CARD Bank, DepEd, and students from the Laguna State Polytechnic University, among others. (Cristeta A. Foronda)

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