THEME: “Bandung+65: More Relevant, United and Effective NAM against Emerging Global Challenges, including COVID-19”.
7:00to 10:00 P.M., 29 September 2020
In this year of landmark anniversaries, and of a pandemic that has upended our world, the Philippines values this focus on the 1955 Bandung Conference.
Bandung was a watershed moment; and not just for the 29 newly independent states of the “Third World” that came together. It expanded the meaning of colonialism to include the continuing hunger of former empires to go on reaping post-independence the wealth they had not planted in their former colonies; but without the cost in lives and treasure naked colonialism required in the past. Turn the natives against each other for the Other was the new strategy and it continues. But now it is as much for local as foreign consumption. Bandung laid the cornerstone for the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Bandung’s faces were Nehru and Sukarno. Nehru’s image was succeeded by Indhira Gandhi’s foiled attempt at dictatorship in the world’s biggest democracy; Sukarno’s by the most successful dictatorship in a place where democracy never had a chance until the last drop of the authoritarian poison was spat out. I’ve lived to see it both.
Bandung provided NAM’s guiding principles: sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in domestic affairs. All of that violated these days as much as they were; except it is all perpetrated under the cloak of international humanitarian concern. Well, it is only human after all to stick your nose where it’s not wanted or needed but without flying your flag over it, giving you deniability.
At the end of the Cold War, questions arose about NAM’s continuing relevance. There was the spasm of a benign unipolar world. Then terror struck, on a scale and with a cruelty never seen before; with a self-indulgent savagery far in excess of any excuse for it. Terror, which is directed at the innocent, can never be excused by history or worse religion. But terrorism can be contagious as Abu Ghraib showed. That was quiet a wake-up call. First thing our reopened eyes saw was the savage horror inflicted under the banner of an inclusive universal religion; and fought with equal but necessary savagery under the blue flag of the United Nations. Multilateralism started to swirl down the drain. Libya was proof positive that multilateralism can be bent to unipolar purposes against its intended reason for being: the protection and safety of the weak and many, against the strong and few. Especially if there’s oil to be parceled.
The pandemic caused the retreat of states into themselves. In the race for a vaccine it has been a game of to each his own, and of money trumps solidarity. Six months into this crisis the world is nowhere near a solution. While the powerful speak of multilateralism, they shirk from acting with the decency that is the only way to treat people behind the different ways of governing them.
The catastrophe brought on us by COVID-19 is a grim reminder that multilateralism can only work for others, as the averred multilateralism of others can be trusted only if it works for you.
The Online NAM Summit on COVID-19 and UNGA’s Special Session on COVID-19 initiated by Azerbaijan is an opportunity for NAM to reconstitute its relevance before reasserting it. We need to come clean first to restart clean — about our purposes, our commitments and our means.
I said at this same meeting last year, one way for NAM to remain relevant and united is for its collective understanding to be reflective of the real situation on the ground; instead of in the mind of whichever Great Power has a different take on reality and is using NAM to make it happen.
Today, how we address COVID-19 will define our future, our relevance.
For the Philippines, that means putting people at the core of our global response. The pandemic has disproportionately affected vulnerable groups, especially migrant workers — a lot of them Filipinos, Indians, Sri-Lankans and yet others. They have lost their livelihoods, health and even lives. Yet they continue to take on a critical role in the frontlines, healing and caring for others in different parts of the world. We need stronger cooperation in promoting and protecting the rights of migrants, regardless of their migrant status and nationality and even if they have lost their nationalities as refugees. NAM must rededicate itself to the great cause of plain decency.
That is why our priority is strengthening capacity of healthcare and social protection systems. Health care is an issue immune to political misunderstanding and misinterpretation unless the plan is to wipe them out by letting the disease take its course.
We need to strengthen scientific cooperation, for science alone will lead us out of a darkness; votive candles cannot illuminate it. And, as President Rodrigo Roa Duterte emphatically said at the UN General Debate: “When the world finds that vaccine... [i]t should be made available to all, rich and poor nations alike… It must be considered a global public good.” Universal access is imperative, and not conditioned on requiring any people, class or country to submit to another’s will as the price of the cure. That is the only decent thing to do.
Geo-political tensions in the South China Sea persist. The Philippines depends on one thing only, okay, two: itself and international law, of which UNCLOS and the 2016 Arbitral Award are a part. The Philippines won the Award with zero help from anybody and with great hindrance from most. It welcomes international support for the Award — better late than never — but in no way does the Philippines acknowledge that support as adding an iota to the legal stature of the Award.
Finally, it is important that NAM review and modify its working methods to make them finally consistent with its origin and purpose. Thank you. (END)
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