The IIRE-Manila recently concluded its first high-profile acitivity, the first Asian Global Justice School. The set-up of the school was inspirired by the many succesful Global Justice School held at the IIRE-Amsterdam. The IIRE-Manila was set up to facilitate educational sessions similar to those organised by the IIRE-Amsterdam, especially for social justice activists from Asia that often have trouble obtaining visa necessary to attend the schools in Amsterdam. Another aim was to provide a perspective more centered on the Global South.
The 19-day school, which started November 9, was intended to pave the way for general discussions on emerging political and socio-economic trends in Asia. Nineteen participants, the majority of them from the Philippines, attended the school. There where also participants and lecturers from Pakistan, Japan, France, the Netherlands and Denmark. Theoretical discussions on topics like the impact of globalisation on the Global South and changing patterns on migration were combined with visits to different communities on the southern island of Mindanao. Mindanao – most recently in the news because of the massacre of rivals of the local Ampatuan dynasty – is the poorest region of the Philippines, itself a Third World country. The island is doubly affected by outside exploitation; like other regions of the Philippines it serves as a pool of cheap labour and raw materials – but the island can also be called an internal colony of the Philipine state itself. Although extremely rich in resources, the local population benefits little from the natural wealth of the environment.
Participants met with representatives of local organisations of peasants and fisherfolk who put in concrete terms what it means for small-scale producers to be pushed aside by capital intensive large scale production. The discussion on the democratic right to self-determination was illustrated with a visit to community of Indigenious People of the Teduray-Lambangian Tribe. Called 'Lumad' in the Philippines, the Indigenious People of Mindanao have been fighting to preserve their way of life – which for the Teduray-Lambangian includes an extremely democratic model of elected leaders and communal property of land – against the encroachment of mulitnationals that don't hesitate to use force to drive people away so natural resources can be exploited.
The participants also met with members of the first LGBT organisation founded on the island. LGBT's face strong prejudice and discrimination in the country as a whole. Just recently, the authority supervising the elections denied a party formed to represent LGBT's the right to participate, stating that the organisation 'promotes immorality' and is 'a danger to the youth'. Members of the Mindanaon LGBT organisation have been blamed for causing floods by their 'sins against God' and have been the victim of violence.
A common theme in the discussions was how to find ways to pokies online work for democracy and social justice in a context of communal division. The population of Mindanao exists of Indigenious People, Christians and Muslims, groups that have often been at odds with eachother. The response of the Philippine governement to the demand of the deprived Muslim population for self-determination has been violence and repression. The ongoing fighting between Muslim militants and the government army has cost thousands of lives. Goverment repression has turned the region into an extremely militarized area and fed the tensions between the different communities. In an era of resurgent communalism and fundamentalism, it was inspiring to meet with activists working to build bridges between the communinuties and create a shared movement for social justice.
This being the first school organised by the IIRE-Manila and of necessity operating on a tight budget, there were also lessons to be learned by the organizers. Most importantly, the participation from other Asian countries was limited: many interested people could not participate because of time or financial restraints. This is one of the points taken up in the preparation of the second Asian Global Justice School, which probably will take place in the summer of next year. Beside the fruitful theoretical discussions and exchange of information, a number of concrete plans to strenghten international solidarity, both between the Global South and north as between different Asian countries also came out of the school. For the IIRE-Manila, the first Asian Global Justice School was a succes, a valuable experience and undoubtedly, only the first of many more to come.