As the Philippines hosts the celebration of the 50th founding anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) today, the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) along with its allied networks, the Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition (APSOC) and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict-Southeast Asia (GPPAC-SEA), together with the broad civil society movement in the region, urgently call on the regional bloc to put front and center the issues of regional peace and human security that continue to challenge the stability of the whole regional community and beset the lives of the most vulnerable peoples in the region.

We view the ASEAN’s 50th anniversary as an opportunity to once again remind governments of their paramount duties and obligations to their peoples. We believe that recent efforts by member-states towards regional cooperation must seek to pursue and explore initiatives that will institutionalize mechanisms for sustainable peace, social justice and development, and a transparent and fully consultative civil society participation in the regional mechanism with the interest of the people at its core.

We believe that serious challenges to peace and human security issues are embedded in the inability and inaction of most governments to address the roots of the internal armed conflicts arising from, assertions of the right to self-determination, ethnic struggles for autonomy, political unrest, violent radicalism and the rise of terrorism, disputes over cross-border territorial and maritime issues, militarization and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms among others. In resolving these conflicts, we re-affirm that the primacy of democratic processes over military or strong-arm solutions must prevail. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable and marginalized peoples of the region continue to bear the brunt and suffer the scourge of all these conflicts.

More concretely, we urge the ASEAN to ensure utmost support to formal and informal peace processes in the region particularly in the Philippines, Burma (Myanmar) and South Thailand. Towards demonstrating ASEAN’s commitment to a comprehensive security agenda as stated in the ASEAN political-security blueprint, ASEAN member governments must strengthen their preventive diplomacy to address comprehensive peace and human security issues and the social impacts of recurring conflicts by establishing partnerships especially with civil society movements and communities directly affected by the conflicts.

We salute the peoples of ASEAN in their persistent and valiant assertions, struggles and engagements to achieve peace, justice, democracy and self-determination. We particularly note and remember that this year’s ASEAN 50th anniversary on August 8 is also the 29th anniversary of the Burmese student-led uprising to the then military rule of Gen. Ne Win. This revolt, popularly known as “8-8-88”, was quickly and brutally suppressed. But the fight continues and we will continue to celebrate this struggle that sparked and inspired the resistance to authoritarian rule in Burma and around the region.

With this year’s summit also highlighting the disputes on the West Philippine Sea, we urge that these should be resolved by peaceful means in accordance to international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in South China Sea (DOC).

“Partnering for Change, Engaging the World” is the theme to commemorate ASEAN’s five decades of existence. As it has consistently proven since its inception, ASEAN has a remarkable acumen in crafting catchy slogans every year. The problem however lies in the failure to transform those catchphrases into reality and breathe them with sincerity and firm commitments.

ASEAN must now realize that an inclusive and sustainable regional peace and security cannot be possibly achieved if it remains detached and indifferent from the realities on the ground. The regional bloc’s vision of a people-centered and peaceful ASEAN will remain illusory without putting the genuine peace and security of the peoples of the region at the forefront of the ASEAN vision. ###