According to the most recent UNESCAP report on the achievement of the SDGs in the Asia-Pacific region, the region is said to be so far off the track to achieve any of the 17 SDGs by 2030. Based on its past data and on its current trajectory, the region was not even close to achieving said goals, whether the pandemic hit or not. The report then emphasized the added urgency to ensure that responses to the pandemic should accelerate progress towards the 2030 agenda.

Looking back at the past few months, now at the dawn of a new decade and a year after the outbreak of COVID-19, we’re seeing the contrary. The whole world is still struggling to recuperate from this global crisis. The pandemic has only intensified that which decades of neoliberal globalization has fostered – inequality, unemployment, poverty, injustice, and underdevelopment of the global south. In addition, the rise of authoritarian and populist governments in the region have resorted to militaristic responses and a weaponization of the pandemic to repress the people further and perpetuate such rule.

This crisis has dealt an adverse effect on our societies, economies, and political systems. The pandemic has only proven that the existing system that we have been relying on is no longer and has never been viable. The exacerbation of persistent poverty, worsening economic crisis, and increasingly militarist and authoritarian response from governments clearly manifest the collapse of the neoliberal foundations in the region. This system is inherently flawed.

En route to the making and implementation of the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda, its reports and review processes have never provided and catered a concrete plan or path to fulfillment. Multilateral and government intentions stray far beyond what the goal is, choosing not to tackle root causes and address systemic barriers. Social dialogue has not been respected, with various attempts to exclude CSOs and POs as equal development actors by excluding them in the process of discussion, implementation, and review of the SDGs at the regional and national levels. Reports and reviews highlight only success stories and best practices. In addition to SDG “blind spots” such as the issues of wealth inequality, corporate greed and power, resource grabbing and gambling, militarism, unjust trade and investment/agreements, patriarchy, casteism, fundamentalism that are never tackled or even mentioned. Furthermore, the shift to a more online platform and space, alienates those with no access. The digital divide, has been accelerated by the pandemic and has hindered our ability to connect with those truly affected by said issues.

A further manifestation of these ills were seen through the results of workshops held by CSOs and POs from the grassroots wherein issues on the current economic system and its militarist preservers in the context of the post-COVID-19 world, were discussed.  Neoliberal globalization’s rotten core has become all the more obvious. In its attempts to mitigate the adverse impacts of the economic downturn, societal risks are shifted to individuals while government resources are siphoned off through unfair loan conditionalities and trade deals. Consequently, the vulnerability of the marginalized sectors have increased exponentially as they are pushed below poverty thresholds. Most notably mentioned was the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), as it shall only facilitate corporate interests and protect foreign investment through several mechanisms, while throwing aside peoples rights and lives.

In addition to this, the discussion delved around authoritarian laws such as the Omnibus Law in Indonesia and the Anti-Terror Law in the Philippines that were passed without the benefit of democratic process. Such laws are disguising themselves under the name of emergency response while profiteering from the current ills of humanity.

The acceleration of the erosion of state-society relations has been very conspicuous as this is due to the unjust exercise of power by the ruling elites. It shows that CoViD-19 has become a catalyst for power consolidation among the ruling class. There has been a rush to promulgate laws that widen the gap between state and the society and tighten controls on socio-economic and political spheres.

The achievement and implementation of the SDGs has always served as a decoy for governments and multilaterals to avoid directly tackling the root causes and bring down systemic barriers, and while the systemic barriers remain unresolved, we know that poverty, hunger, inequality, conflicts and human rights violations will only get worse.

People’s movements have been pushing back against repression in the time of CoViD-19 and this indicates that ever since the beginning of the lockdown, there has been ferment of counteraction against this growing repression. We can expect that there will only be a much stronger resistance because the pandemic has yet again proven that in every crisis, the corporate rule and profit-oriented politics will only look at further exploiting the people and environment. The intensifying attacks to the people are just a mere manifestation of the governments’ desperation in protecting and maintaining the profit-oriented economy. 

Unless we deal with these systemic failures that render exploited groups more vulnerable, this crisis shall not end. Solidarity is not just morally right, it is a necessity. We must carry on with our struggle for development justice that could truly promote the people centered growth, genuine equality and just and peaceful society.

We call on all governments in the region to respect and protect civil society space and recognize the vital work civil society organizations perform as independent development actors. We appeal to international bodies and platforms to ensure human rights in the Asia-Pacific and hold to account governments for its gross human rights violations, including the crackdown of civil society.

We must use this opportunity to deliver a just and equitable transition away from a consumption-based,  extractive and exploitative economy to a just, sustainable and caring economy focused on the needs of the people and communities.

We must cure the serious problems of the world worsened by the pandemic not for going back to normal but for reconstructing a new and better normal. We need to ensure that our post-COVID19 world is truly inclusive, resilient, and sustainable – one that pushes for genuine development and justice for all.

#DevelopmentJusticeNow!

#AsiaPacificPeoplesForum2021