Asia Pacific Peoples Forum on Sustainable Development opening remarks 

By APRN | April 18, 2023

Alex Enano, Asia Pacific Research Network & APRCEM Co-Chair

March 24, 2023  |  Bangkok, Thailand

We live in unprecedented times, multiple crises exacerbated by pandemic, wars of aggression, and corporate plunder is haunting the world. 

Undeniably, while the COVID-19 crisis and the war between Ukraine and Russia played a critical role in contributing to these projections, placing blame on these phenomena alone is missing the forest for the trees. Even without the emergence of the virus or the war, the world is already in a state of turmoil. 

We need to talk about how the compounding crises–economic, ecological, and environmental– have contributed to the decades-long problem of the working peoples.  

We are here for our farmers, workers, fisherfolk, pastoralists: the toiling masses. We are here for the women and children, migrants, persons with disabilities, people of diverse SOGIE, our indigenous peoples. The stacks have been against them for a very long time. And, at the expense of their exploitation and oppression, we live in a time where the rich get richer, even when the world is burning.

While many suffer from destitution, the super-rich continue to amass wealth shamelessly. Inflation is outpacing wages for 1.7 billion workers across nations, yet billionaires’ net worth is soaring. An unthinkable $1.7 billion added to their fortunes every day. The wealthiest 1% has accumulated a shocking $1 trillion since the pandemic began. 1 trillion. Let that sink in.

On top of that, we are living in a multipolar world where Asia and the Pacific is caught in a rivalry between the old and new imperialist powers. 

In its attempt to maintain its global position, the US mobilized its banks and international financial institutions to intensify loan ventures in the guise of economic recovery deals for us poor countries. Militarily, it is aggressively mobilizing its NATO war machine. The US is expanding its foothold right in our doorsteps through its latest military alliances in Asia and the Pacific. 

While China also experienced a slump in its industries, it still managed to maintain its economic trajectory, challenging US dominance. It continues to solidify its power in Asia and the Pacific politically and militarily. The geopolitical tensions can reach a boiling point anytime, and it is the people who will be caught in the crossfire.

Amidst this reality, the conversations among multilateral platforms continue to operate in the same framework. It excludes the people’s voices in its decision-making processes. That is why, alll the more reason for us to reflect on where we are—ask what is the relevance of the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals in our overall pursuit of genuine and sustainable development. 

The global efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger and promote sustainability have been hindered by a system prioritizing profit and extractivism over people. Imperialism is the status quo that impedes genuine development for billions of people across the globe. 

The recent ESCAP report is not at all reassuring. The progress on all the SDGs in Asia and the Pacific is a meager 14.44%. This means that Asia Pacific will miss 90% of the 118 measurable targets in 2030.

Clearly, there is something fundamentally wrong with how we are trying to solve our problems. We must rethink our strategies and work towards genuine development where people are the priority, not profit and greed. Only changing the system and shifting the power can open the path towards the future that we want.

​​In the next few days, we need to interrogate the current SDG framework and why we are far from achieving the Agenda 2030. The important task now lies in advancing APRCEM’s framework of people’s right to development. We will be placing the people’s aspirations and demands at the center of our conversations. 

How do we envision genuine sustainable development for Asia and the Pacific region? At the core, it matters how we, the people, define what development is. How it takes shape in the people’s fight and aspirations on the ground. 

For those on the ground, development often means grand projects and massive infrastructure developments. However, true development is about people, their rights, their well-being, and their future.

Too often development and the policies and projects that come with it have been at the expense of the people. Communities are often left out of the conversation, their voices ignored or silenced.

Development and what it constitutes have been robbed and hollowed out of its meaning. Development no longer means the betterment of the people. Instead, it now unapologetically represents the promise of the neoliberal model of the economy which accumulates profit for the ruling class. 

Yet, we have to ask, who are the real drivers of development? Is it the state as the duty bearer and arbiter of development?  In a system where there is corporate hijack of development, we have come to a point where governments’ roles have receded. We have seen how governments are subservient to corporate and imperialist interests. When governments cannot protect the rights of its people for jobs, living wages, and social protection; when the people cannot rely on their governments during calamaties; when governments have broken the social contract, what is there to do?  

There are those who push back. 

Let’s go back and reflect on stories from the ground, workers challenging the power of transnational corporations, rural peoples fighting for food sovereignty, indigenous peoples asserting self-determination and against militarization, and women boldly fighting patriarchy and the exploitative system. 

In the end, we must recognize that the people themselves in the communities, the society as one, are the drivers of development. It is them who define genuine sustainable development. In the end, it’s about empowered people: – empowered women, men, youth,— empowered indigenous peoples, farmers, fisherfolks, persons with disabilities, migrants, and workers. They are the drivers of genuine sustainable development.

As civil society and people’s organizations involved in engagement mechanisms such as ours here in APRCEM, it’s timely to ask ourselves how we could further contribute to realizing genuine sustainable development beyond our work in advocacy and engagement. 

We need to challenge our initial objective of seeing APRCEM as just a mechanism that works towards sustainable development processes by highlighting the stories of grassroots organizations from communities. 

We need to level up our commitment by going beyond our usual purview of engaging and being one with the struggles of the people on the ground. 

This year’s Peoples Forum aims to raise the discourse of what development means for the people amidst the growing crises we experience in the region. Building on the knowledge and experiences of organizations working with different constituencies and sectors, we intend to deepen our understanding and commitment on Development Justice as a holistic approach to sustainable development and building solidarity among sectors, across borders. 

With this year’s theme, “Change the System, Shift the Power: Challenging Imperialism and Corporate Capture of  the COVID-19 Recovery and the 2030 Agenda”, let us continue  supporting each other’s ideas, plans, and actions. Let us strengthen solidarity among movements, activists, and civil society groups in Asia and the Pacific and with other global regions. 

Solidarity and people power must be at the very heart of development. The marginalized and oppressed people of the world should link arms and join together to realize genuine sustainable development. 

Dear friends and colleagues, esteemed guests thank you for being with us today, and on behalf of the APRCEM’s Regional Coordinating Committee, welcome to the Asia Pacific Peoples Forum on Sustainable Development 2023. Power to the people!

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