Reflections from the World Social Forum

By BenCyrus G. Ellorin, 31 January 2007, published on MindaNews, Philippines. Same article on Sun.Star, Philippines.

Excerpts: By the time my editors see this column in their emails, I’m probably already more than 30,000 feet above the Indian Ocean in a journey that would bring me back to my continent, Asia …

… I was asked to make the presentation of the 2006 International Sustainability Watch Report of the SusWatch Network in the 23rd of January 2007. The said report highlighted the Barriers to Sustainable Development that directly impinges on the ability of nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America to achieve their Millennium Development Goals, specifically the MDGs on Poverty Alleviation, Environmental Sustainability and Governance.

It was appalling how elite control of natural resources by foreign monopoly corporations aided by the rich countries resulted in destruction of the environment, culture and alienation of the people from the market-oriented economy introduced from the West. It was also noteworthy that these southern countries, be they in Asia, Africa or Latin America, have weak or puppet governments that work more for the interest of their big brother countries rather than for the genuine interest and welfare of their constituents.

In the case of Southeast Asia, for example, it was very alarming that as far as democracy and environmentally sustainable development are concerned, we as a region is not moving forward, but backward. Democracies in our region are taking a beating, from the unabated political killings in the Philippines to the martial rule in Myanmar, the sufferings of the people in Timor Liste, the sorry condition of migrant workers in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, so on and so forth.

And while this is happening, multi-national corporations from the United States, Australia, Europe, Japan, and even from emerging economic giants China and India, are exploiting left and right our natural resources, from mining in the Philippines to logging in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia. While our governments allow the exploitation of our natural resources to feed on the heavy consumption patterns of the throw-away western world, poor people from countries like the Philippines, mostly women, are shipped out to sweatshops and as domestic helpers and entertainers to serve Philippine sushi or sashimi to rich Japanese or provide health-care to American and European citizens, wash the dirty linen of the rich expats in Singapore or Hong Kong or toil under the desert sun in the Middle East. And resources and labor are appropriated to feed the extravagant needs of the rich countries and their people.

We are living not just in our very own unequal societies, but the world has become so globally unequal. The stories of struggle and despair from more than half of the world’s population as told in the WSF sessions was a very far cry from the wealth being displayed by the world’s elite in posh Davos, Switzerland or even the Southeast Asian leaders in the recent ASEAN Summit in Cebu. While in Nairobi, I was lodged in the fourth floor of an apartment hotel in sub-urban Langata District, just a few kilometers from the renowned Kenya National Park. From my hotel room, I have a good view of the largest slum in Africa (surpassing the Sowetto District in South Africa), the Kibera slum. The rusting tin roofs of the slum shines every morning as the sun kisses the East African plateau and savannahs. At night, however, it disappears, with only faint flickering lights remaining as the million people living in that slum do not have basic amenities such as electricity. It was two worlds in a very small place …

… If the people I met were encouraged by the Filipino people’s struggling spirit and love for freedom, I am both happy and sad. Happy that we have encouraged peaceful revolts, but sad that we are again going down. That while our African brothers may be now energized to recover, we are, as a nation, going backward. And if we allow this downturn to turn for the worse, what I saw in the Kibera slum a little distance away may one day happen in our beloved country. And then, I said in my little prayer, as I pulled luggage away, that it should not be allowed to happen in our beloved Pilipinas. And struggle we must, go on.

*Swahili is the language spoken in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. It is a language that is said to originate in the port city of Dar Es Sallam in Tanzania and spread to the plateaus and savannahs of East Africa. The World Social Forum 2007 happened in Nairobi, Kenya, 20-25 January this year. (full text).

(The writer is a community organizer based in Cagayan de Oro in Northern Mindanao, Philippines. He is the co-chairperson of the Philippine Civil Society Council for Sustainable Development and represents Asia in the executive committee of the International Sustainability Watch Network.)

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