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Plea to APEC to empower the poor not use them

MANILA (SE): The president of the bishops’ conference of the host nation for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) held in Manila from November 18 to 19, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, called on global leaders to concentrate on formulating policies that can empower the poor and the marginalised.

Archbishop Villegas said that in the face of rising income gaps in most parts of Asia, APEC should roll out inclusive reforms that would improve the living conditions of the poor.

“Empowering the poor also means letting their voices be heard. It is one of the best ways to fight poverty,” CBCP News quoted the archbishop as saying.

“It is not just about helping the poor. It is about empowering the poor so they are heard, because we are so used to looking at the poor as recipients of help,” he stressed.

“I think we should change our mindset, as we look at the poor as people with voices that are not heard. They are not just recipients of help, they must be heard,” he reiterated.

On November 16, the president of the host nation of the APEC summit, Noynoy Aquino, said that his nation has already introduced radical reforms in education in order to address poverty.

He described the hoped for end result in this way, “Instead of having many big fish in a small pond, we are moving our economic ecosystem into a bigger pond, where everybody can grow and reach their full potential.”

However, criticisms levelled at the government by Church leaders say that currently the economy operates as a series of a few huge fish in tiny ponds, where people are deliberately kept poor in order to sustain the current rich-poor economic and powerful-weak political divides.

The charter of APEC is to support economic growth and promote prosperity in the eastern Asia and Australasia belt.

Archbishop Villegas said that empowering the poor would contribute significantly to the real growth of all economies. “Growth, to be growth, cannot be exclusive,” he pointed out.

He added, “It should always especially include those experiencing hardships, those who are forgotten.”

He pointed to the lack of education and the suppression of the ability of people to express themselves freely as being basic reasons why  many are trapped in poverty.

“Don’t equate helping the poor with simply giving help, giving aid through dole outs, because that’s not what they are asking for. Instead, let us make the space for them to have an active voice in worldly decisions to be made,” he said.

Orlando Cardinal Quevado called for the summit to show a human face, “And the human face speaks about the development of the poor people,” he told Radio Veritas.

He said the current economic philosophy of APEC cannot be accused of promoting the trickle-down theory, because hardly anything trickles down. “It only befits the big businesses,” he said, “while the poor and the marginalised are the last to be attended to.”

Some of the world’s most powerful leaders and other top officials arrived in Manila in the days prior to the summit, including the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama; Xi Jinping, from China; and the prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe.

But Filipinos opposed to the APEC agenda called it a tool for imperialism and oppression of poor nations and people.

“APEC’s push for further liberalisation of trade and investments, deregulation of prices and privatisation of social services has kept wages low, prices high and people in poverty,” Vencer Crisostomo, the chairperson of the youth social action group, Anakbayan, told UCAN.

Some 30 priests and seminarians gathered about a kilometre from the summit venue to voice their opposition.

Father Edprim Gaza said that its persistence in pushing for the opening of several mining sites only favours foreign interests, not Filipinos.

Military police used water cannons to disperse indigenous people, who condemned the deployment of troops in their tribal communities. 

The Redemptorist priests hoisted a streamer above their famed Baclaran Church in Parañaque on November 19, after police barricaded them and a group of indigenous people from Mindanao inside the church compound to prevent them taking the plight of the people into the streets.

The indigenous people, who say their leaders are being slaughtered by the Philippine military on their own lands, had walked over 1,000 kilometres from Mindanao in order to put their plight before the leaders of the APEC nations to garner more support outside the country.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said protesters are entitled to freedom of conscience and thought.

A group of lawyers later warned the government against violations of the right to freedom of expression.

“The peaceful exercise of these rights poses no real and specific threat to national security or public safety, public order, public health or morals,” the group said.


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