ASSIST helps conduct National Youth Summit on Anti-Trafficking

27 10 2011

Asia Society for Social Improvement and Sustainable Transformation (ASSIST) is proud to be part of the National Youth Summit of the Movement of Anti-Trafficking Advocates organized by the MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) and the Visayan Forum held at the Ateneo de Manila University last October 24 to 25, 2011.

Supported by the USAID, AustralianAID and organized in partnership with Dakila (Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism) and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, the event gathered a hundred youth leaders from all over the Philippines.

The two-day summit opened with solidarity messages from MTV  EXIT Campaign Director Matt Love, Visayan Forum Deputy Executive Director Roland Pacis, US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Hon. Leslie A. Bassett, and Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Rod Smith. Keynote Address was delivered by Sec. Leila de Lima of the Department of Justice, which is also the Designated Chair of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT).

MTV EXIT showed its documentary entitled Enslaved which delved on the realities of trafficking in the Philippines. United Nations Children’s Fund’s (Unicef) Jesus Far presented on the children’s rights code (CRC), while VF Policy Center Jerome Alcantara presented on how human trafficking is a challenge for the youth. A human trafficking survivor also shared her experience to provide an insight on the experience.

For Day 1’s afternoon session, participants were divided into groups, within which they shared their organizations’ current efforts to fight human trafficking. They also learned how to influence the Sangguniang Kabataan with the Anti-Trafficking advocacy, through the sharing of experience by SK Cebu Provincial SK Federation President Aladin Wilyamie Caminero.

For Day 2, Filipino youth champions provided insights on leadership and innovation. Mr. Harvey S. Keh, ADMU’s Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship discussed the youth’s great potential in sparking change, while Anna Meloto-Wilk, President, Gandang Kalikasan, Inc. discussed her experience in helping prevent trafficking by employing best labor practices in her company.

Rommel Juan, President of Binalot Fiesta Foods, Inc. also narrated his business’s corporate social responsibility practices, but also delved on how ingenuity in strategizing works as well in business as in advocacy. Finally, Called to Rescue Director Anthony Pangilinan talked about the importance of persistence and not fearing failure in ensuring the success of campaigns.

The afternoon featured another breakout session for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao groups to discuss 10 things that the youth can do to fight trafficking. The two-day summit ended with a networking session and a solidarity night for all participants as well as the organizers to express commitment to unite against human trafficking.#


Latest issue of ASSIST Newsletter now available!

20 10 2011


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The Supreme Court Can(not) Make Final Decisions

19 10 2011

by Paula Bianca Lapuz

The Supreme Court (SC) makes final decisions. Never mind the content of the decision, regardless, it’s final. That’s probably the only better argument against the high court’s unexpected action two weeks ago, when it reversed its supposedly “final” decision on the case of the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (FASAP) and the Philippine Airlines (PAL).

On September 07, 2011, the High Tribunal vindicated FASAP, rendering illegal the retrenchment of some 1, 400 PAL employees in 1998 and demanded the reinstatement of the workers.

But on October 04, 2011, the SC recalled its decision, favoring PAL, which again put the court amidst controversies.

Legislators and the Palace alike expressed their dismay over the court’s “flip-flopping” (Lawas 2011). Senator Miram Santiago, in an interview, said that she was angry over the decision of the high court because it compromised the credibility of the institution as the “bulwark of the peoples’ civil liberties.” She noted that the retraction of the court resolution did not just affect the 1, 400 plus complainants, but had also wasted the 13 years of litigation (Dalangin-Fernandez and Cabial 2011).

The decision came after PAL Lawyer Estelito Mendoza sent letters to the SC. Mendoza sought clarifications with the court regarding the division which issued the injunction. According to SC Spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez, the Court Division responsible for the case should have been the third Division but for some reason, the case was sent to the Second Division. Whether or not this was the explicit reason for the reversal of the decision was not clear.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona had likewise vented his disappointment over criticisms hurled at the court saying that the public should study the decision first before they say anything because they do not understand the case.


The SC is supposedly infallible; at least, this should be the case. Of course, law scholars are expected to react negatively. But what is even more appalling is how the SC responds to the negative criticisms. The SC probably feels that it owes nothing to the public, and is therefore not obliged to explain its decision further. Never mind putting the institution’s credibility in jeopardy for as long as it can maintain its elite stature.

But that actually defeats the purpose of having a spokesperson. The SC spokesperson should be able to articulate the logic behind the SC’s decision. Midas did not elaborate on why the SC had radically changed its mind on the case. Does the second division think differently from the third? Does the third division give no prior value to the “final” decision issued by the second division? What difference does it make? To laymen, these are valid questions. And it is important that the SC is mindful of their public image, because their image is reflective of our whole justice system. If the High Court can alter decisions made with finality with a snap of finger, then how can the citizens rely on our justice system?

In a television interview, Midas mentioned that his appointment as the Supreme Court spokesperson is part of the institution’s way to bring the SC closer to the people. But at the moment, it appears that he is not fulfilling this goal.

One basic rule in political communication is to never leave issues unanswered. It will not hurt the SC if it goes the extra mile to explain why it did what it did.

Works cited:

Dalangin-Fernandez, Lira, and Fritzie Cabial. Interaksyon News 5. October 12, 2011. (accessed October 17, 2011).

Lawas, Hector. Journal Online. October 15, 2011. (accessed October 17, 2011).

The US and China: a love-hate relationship

18 10 2011

 by Paula Bianca Lapuz

The earth was made by God and the rest was made in China. This is perhaps the oldest running joke regarding the world’s largest factory.

Indeed, jokes bear some form of truth. China has the largest competitive advantage over cheap labor and since it has slowly opened up its market to the world four decades ago, multinationals have flocked to its sweatshops to reduce their manufacturing costs.

Since 2001, bilateral trade has grown between China and the US, which some critics claim is partly to blame for the 1998 crisis. Of course, the crisis was largely due to the collapse of the housing market, but the influx of cheap products from the mighty China also put a lot of local businesses out of operation. A report by the Trade and Manufacturing Policy Research stated that at least 2.8 million jobs were lost since 2001 (Mulvey 2011).

Analysts point to the manipulated Chinese currency, the yuan, for the cheap products. They say that the yuan is 25% to 30% undervalued against the US dollar which makes the products of the Chinese 25% to 30% cheaper than US made products (FlorCruz 2011).

A few days ago, United States Senators pushed for legislation that intend to discipline countries intentionally undervaluing their currency to gain unfair trade advantage over the US. Analysts see this as a measure to arrest the huge trade deficit of the US with China which currently stands at $273.1 billion as of February 2011 (Wearden 2011).

Nevertheless, many are still wary of this move. House Speaker John Boehner stated in a CNN report that he is not in favor of the said proposition. Moreover, Boehner said that messing with the yuan was “well beyond what the Congress ought to be doing (FlorCruz 2011).”

Miles and oceans away, issues on unemployment and rising labor costs are surfacing in China.

Economic progress also means a growing population of university graduates looking for better jobs other than those in the factories (BBC 2011). And with labor costs starting to increase, jobs are predicted to head back to the US sooner (Marsh 2011).

But some analysts feel that this could very well be just wishful thinking. Patrick Chovanec, Associate Professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management told CCN that “a stronger yuan is not going to bring back jobs in labor-intensive, low-tech industries where the US has no real competitive advantage” and that even before those jobs reach the US it will be headed toward countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh (FlorCruz 2011).


Several factors must be considered in this picture.

First, the fact remains that China is still the biggest holder of US Treasuries. Of course, China has to put its money somewhere and as Fareed Zacharia would put it, where else is the safest depository of real cash, but the US Treasuries? Never in history has the US government defaulted on any loan.

Second, certainly, the US cannot win its competition against China by sanctioning the latter for undervaluing the yuan. China, unlike the US, can and is doing business with everyone, even with the likes of Pakistan, Myanmar, and other countries with which the US has issues. China’s growing political and economic power is too strong to suppress.

Third, as stated by House Speaker Boehner, forcing China to undervalue the yuan is probably out of the US Congress’s hands. At the time when the yen was suspected of being undervalued against the US dollar, key stakeholders of leading economies and major financial institutions signed an agreement (see the Plaza Accord) to force the Japanese government to adjust the yen to its real value.

Fourth, this goes against the mantra of the US on liberalization. Clearly, this is a sign of protectionism, which is probably good depending on which perspective one uses, but of course is still inconsistent with the US neo-liberal policy, and which will most likely upset the World Trade Organization.

This is also perhaps a lesson learned the hard way for the US. It remains fundamentally vital to secure the local economy first. It is rather interesting to see the US rattled by China, when in fact, it is the US that has forced other countries to abandon their protectionist policies in the name of globalization and free trade.

This is a US-China love-hate relationship. Clearly, the US cannot discipline China. Not when China is striking deals with other significant global political players, not when China sets its eye on space explorations, not when the China’s growth is unstoppable. China may experience a bit of problems here and there, but surely, with its huge resources, it will stay as a global power whether the US likes it or not.

It is also true that jobs, if lost in China, will not head back to the US. What the US needs to do beyond worrying about China, is to encourage further innovation in its industries, to which CNN’s Fareed Zacharia had also agreed (CNN 2011).

Works Cited

BBC. BBC News Asia-Pacific. July 19, 2011. (accessed October 14, 2011).

CNN. CNN Press Room. June 05, 2011. (accessed October 14, 2011).

FlorCruz, Jaime. CNN Business. October 11, 2011. (accessed October 14, 2011).

Marsh, Peter. CNN Business. October 07, 2011. (accessed October 14, 2011).

Mulvey, Jeanette. Business News Daily/News and Trends. September 20, 2011. (accessed October 14, 2011).

Wearden, Graeme. The Guardian News/US Economy. February 11, 2011. (accessed October 14, 2011).

NEWS: Amnesty calls on Canada to arrest George Bush

13 10 2011

(Al Jazeera) – Human rights organisation says Canada must prosecute former US president during October visit for “authorising torture”

Amnesty International has called on Canadian authorities to arrest and prosecute George W Bush, saying the former US president authorised torture in the course of the United States’ “war on terror”.

Bush is expected to attend an economic summit in Surrey in Canada’s westernmost British Columbia province on October 20.

The human rights organisation said in a statement released on Wednesday that the Canadian government has “international obligations … given [Bush’s] responsibility for crimes under international law including torture”.

The London-based group also released a 27-page memorandum that it had submitted in September to Canada’s attorney general laying out its legal case.

“As the US authorities have, so far, failed to bring former president Bush to justice, the international community must step in,” said Susan Lee, Amnesty’s Americas director, in the statement.

Read more:

Is Myanmar headed toward a more stable democracy?

11 10 2011

Asked by the BBC News on how substantial she thought the reforms were, Suu Kyi said they are beginning to see "changes” and had urged the international community to monitor the situation in their country. - Photo from

photo from:

by Paula Bianca Lapuz

Years ago, it would have been unbelievable to see Myanmar opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi stepping out of her house in Rangoon again where she has been detained for more than 15 years by the military junta.

Suu Kyi has been a democracy icon not just in her home country, Myanmar, but everywhere else in the world where democracy is recognized and practiced. She is the daughter of General Aung San, the leader of the modern Burmese Army, and responsible for the independence of Burma, who is revered as a national hero until today.

Unfortunately, Suu Kyi has been banned from participating in the last two national elections in Myanmar for the last three decades. Both of these elections were allegedly rigged by the junta, despite Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy gaining an upper hand in the first elections in 1990. Even with constant suggestions by the government for her to leave the country to live with her family, Suu Kyi did not even consider leaving her homeland. Her husband Michael Aris died of cancer in 1999 without seeing her (Burma Campaign UK n.d.).

In August of 2009, Suu Kyi was found guilty of breaking her house arrest terms, prompting the junta to extend her house arrest to one and a half years, which effectively prohibited her from joining the scheduled election in November 2010 (McCurry 2009).

In November 13, 2011, Suu Kyi was released from her house arrest, almost a week after the national elections. This was the first initiative of then the military junta to transition to democracy.

The junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party won the elections and has since been trying to prove to the world that the wheels are moving toward reforms. For many years, the United States has placed economic sanctions on Myanmar to defy the military dictatorship, but following the “democratic elections,” the US is being asked by sympathizers to the new government and to the junta people to lift the sanctions. The US, however, remains adamant against starting any form of trade with the new government, pending real tangible reforms (Channel News Asia 2011).

In August of this year, Myanmar’s newly elected President Thein Sein invited Aung San Suu Kyi to a one to one discussion, but details of the meeting were not disclosed to the public (MOE 2011).

But this is not the first time that followers of Myanmar politics are caught by surprise. In April 2011, President Thein Sein appointed, Dr. U Myint, a well-respected scholar, who has served in the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP) as a senior economist, and who is consequently a close friend of Suu Kyi, to head his economic team (Allchin 2011).

The TIME has indicated that all these, including a freer media and the recent granting of a permission to a United Nations human rights envoy to visit Myanmar’s “most notorious” prison, is sending positive signals to the world, that indeed, the government is open to “dialogues” (Marshall 2011).

When asked by the BBC News on how substantial she thought the reforms were, Suu Kyi stated that they are beginning to see “changes” and had urged the international community to monitor the situation in their country (Harvey 2011).

The question however, is how serious the new government is in pushing for reforms. The Economist stated that no matter how little the movements are, the new government should still be applauded for the movements (“at least there are movements”). Such recent movements also included the instruction of the government to abandon a Chinese funded dam project which invariably raised the eyebrows of the country’s powerful partner in Asia (The Economist 2011).

Of course any movement toward any form of reform should prove to be positive. But this will not be a complete transition to democracy anytime sooner. The influence of the military junta lurks behind the government leadership, casting doubt on the sincerity of the new regime. As long as repressive laws are not repealed completely, the political reforms will not be taken seriously and distrust will continue to linger among hardliners. Before any political reform is achieved, a national reconciliation and healing must start.

Myanmar cannot afford to earn the ire of the international community. It may have very well been able to resist globalization in the past, through its engagements with China, but with the ever-expanding global interconnectedness, there is no way that Myanmar can stay out of touch with the rest of world. With its poverty rate standing at 26% in 2010, Myanmar truly needs the capital to invest on infrastructure and other social development projects (The News Today 2011).

Works cited

Allchin, Joseph. Democratic Voice of Burma. April 28, 2011. (accessed October 10, 2011).

Burma Campaign UK. Burma Campaign UK. (accessed October 10, 2011).

Channel News Asia. US says no to easing pressure on Myanmar. February 03, 2011. (accessed October 10, 2011).

Harvey, Rachel. BBC Asia-Pacific. October 03, 2011. (accessed October 10, 2011).

Marshall, Andrew. TIME World . August 31, 2011.,8599,2091229,00.html (accessed October 10, 2011).

McCurry, Justin. The Guardian World News. August 11, 2009. (accessed October 10, 2011).

Moe, Wai. The Irrawaddy/Burma. August 19, 2011. (accessed October 10, 2011).

The Economist. The Economist. October 08, 2011. (accessed October 10, 2011).

The News Today. The News Today. July 03, 2011. (accessed October 10, 2011).

News Commentary: The Future of India-Pakistan-Afghanistan Relations

10 10 2011

by Paula Bianca Lapuz

In 2014, the US military forces are pulling out of Afghanistan, after years of deploying support to the Northern Alliance, the pro-democracy forces in the country combating the fundamentalist group, Taliban.

Afghanistan has had a long history of war and security threat issues, owing to mixed internal and external factors, which include but are not limited to the following: (1) its strategic location beneficial to both Pakistan and India, two countries that have had disputes over Kashmir, an Indian administered area whose ownership is being claimed by the former; (2) its border dispute with Pakistan; (3) the sustained struggle of the Taliban and the Haqqani Network against Afghan President Karzai’s government; and (4) the inability of the democratic government to govern resolutely amidst the withstanding crisis, among other issues (Bajoria 2009).

This is a long story whose end is still unclear. Analysts claim that the solution to the Afghan war is to attain a sincere, genuine and lasting peace between Pakistan and India (BAKER 2008). Reports early in July showed newly installed Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna signifying renewed commitments to peace talks (Denyer 2011).  While credible documentation exist, verifying Pakistan’s support to insurgents in Kashmir (Bajoria 2009), both countries are allegedly pressured by the United States to resume diplomatic relations, as the retraction of US military forces nears (Lakshmi 2011).

However, three months later, India signed a security and trade pact with Afghanistan (Lakshmi 2011) which purportedly casts doubt over the sustainability of the peace talks between Pakistan and India. At the moment, Pakistan allows the transit of Afghan goods through its territory but denies the similar access to India (Bajoria 2009). A culture of distrust resonates throughout the borders of Pakistan. Peace talks are so fragile that once interrupted, violence is expected to rise just as quickly.

Afghanistan is likewise seen as an entry to the oil rich Central Asia (Bajoria 2009), which energy hungry states like the US and India are keen on observing since oil reserves in the Middle East are fast diminishing. With all interests clearly on the table, Afghanistan’s stability is seemingly the only viable option.

But with India’s growing influence in Afghanistan, the challenge to appease Pakistan is again presenting itself. Caught amidst the cost of the war are the Afghan people, the International Security Assistance Force soldiers, the Indian workers deployed in Indian-funded projects in Afghanistan, and the many families of all parties involved. Even the insurgents themselves are not reaping any fruit of the war.

Without peace, the government in Kabul will not be able to move things radically forward. And to attain peace, it has to deal with externalities and the compounding internal problems with the Taliban and its allied forces.

The US cannot delay the withdrawal of its troops as it is costing too much money and too many lives. President Barrack Obama is mindful of the direction that his government is dedicated to take as this can contribute significantly to his re-election bid in 2012, among other things. What remains to be clear is that Afghanistan is set to embark on a long and painful journey toward nation building and it cannot do this alone. President Karzai has to avoid political gridlocks between and among all the political stakeholders within and outside its borders.

Bajoria, Jayshree. “India-Afghanistan Relations.” Council on Foreign Relations. July 22, 2009. (accessed October 06, 2011).

BAKER, ARYN. “The Key to Afghanistan: India-Pakistan Peace.” TIME. November 11, 2008.,8599,1857953,00.html (accessed October 06, 2011).

Denyer, Simon. “India, Pakistan pledge warmer ‘new era’.” The Washington Post. July 27, 2011. (accessed October 06, 2011).

Jobs, Steve. “2005 Stanford Commencement Address.” June 14, 2005.

Lakshmi, Rama. “India and Afghanistan sign security and trade pact.” The Washington Post. October 05, 2011. (accessed October 06, 2011).