Report on the UPF Peace Talks Webinar Organized by UPF Southeast Asia
Universal Peace Federation Southeast Asia Region
``Challenges in Governance in Our Time of a Global Pandemic: Southeast Asian Perspective``
UPF Southeast Asia held its first Peace Talks Webinar on the theme “Challenges in Governance in Our Time of a Global Pandemic: Southeast Asian Perspective” last June 11, 2020, from 6:00 PM to 7:40 PM, Manila time. With 7 knowledgeable speakers from Southeast Asia nations, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Myanmar, the webinar drew 584 registered participants from 25 nations across Asia Pacific and other parts of the world.
Hon. Ek Nath Dhakal, Chairman of UPF and IAPP Asia Pacific, gave the opening remarks and spoke on the transnational threat that the pandemic has brought to the world and how it needs a global response in order to mitigate its daunting effects and challenges. Echoing UPF’s statement on COVID-19 last April 21, he reminded everyone that it is the time to work together and foster unity and peace so that we could move beyond this crisis and emerge with a stronger, healthier and more cooperative family of nations as we rebuild our lives and economic fortunes together.
Dr. Chung Sik Yong, Regional Group Chairman of UPF-Asia Pacific, delivered his remarks as well and welcomed everyone to the webinar on behalf of the founders, Father and Mother Moon. He stressed on the role of the UPF in building bridges of harmony and understanding between the various faiths in the world, in educating the youth and families as well as leaders of the world about the fundamental principles of good governance. He spoke how we should take this global crisis as a greater opportunity to forge unity and cooperation among nations especially in the Southeast Asian Region.
Dr. Monthip Sriratana, Former Deputy Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and Former Member of the Parliament in Thailand, spoke first and mentioned how COVID 19 has exposed the government’s weaknesses and helped identify where we can strengthen our governance for the benefit of all Thais. She tackled four vital areas that needs to be given attention to. First, the government needs to build resilience in the middle- and low-income classes. She said that we need to get serious about building strong social safety nets under the most vulnerable in our society. Strong social protection program is a must if we are to successfully resist future outbreaks of Covid-19 and other natural disasters, including the immediate and long-term effects of climate change. She also mentioned about the need to stop illegal wildlife trade and protect wild areas and strengthen the education system so that the populace could be resilient to perturbations such as COVID-19. Most importantly, we should aim at the implementation of the UN Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Hon. Leopoldo Bataoil, Mayor of Lingayen, Pangasinan, Former Congressman, Philippine House of Representatives and President of IAPP Philippines, spoke next. He narrated how the Philippine government and its local government units are dealing with the virus so far. With the enactment of R.A 11469 or The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the Executive Branch of the government was able to have the power to implement temporary measures to respond to the crisis brought about by COVID 19 which includes adopting and implementing measures based on WHO guidelines and best practices to prevent or suppress further transmission and spread of the virus. Social distancing, travel ban and temporary community lockdowns are being observed in different parts of the nation. A state of calamity and public healthy emergency is being imposed, authorizing local government units to redirect and realign funds purposely to address the virus. With everyone’s cooperation and continuing effort, they are now moving towards normalization. In his constituency, there are no more reported cases and the general community quarantine will end by June 15. Still, they are not keeping their guards down and are continuously practicing social distancing until the vaccine will be readily available.
H.E. Suos Yara, member of the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia and serving as the Vice Chairman of the Commission of Foreign Affairs who is also the Director General of the Asian Cultural Council and Vice-President of the Centrist Democrat International for Asia-Pacific Region, reported that in Cambodia, they were able to prevent community outbreak with only 126 cases of COVID 19, 0 fatality and 125 recovered patients. He emphasized on the main challenges that the region is facing in these times of crisis in the economy, tourism, foreign direct investment and the health sector. He said that the goal of Cambodia is to promote multilateralism and forge alliance with other nations to pursue the common goal of combating the virus. He stressed that the times are calling for us to build on dependency and solidarity and work together with the World Health Organization and make the vaccination accessible to all. This is the time to end racism and violence. Politicians should work together to cooperate and not to divide a class. He also underscored the importance of the powerful nations’ assistance to promote solidarity. He said that if we present ourselves together in solidarity, ASEAN can be united together in this time of crisis, bridging a state among Asian countries to uphold the principle of centrality and solidarity.
Dato’ Muhammad Nasir Hamzah, Deputy Chairman of Karangkraf Media Group from Malaysia said that that even before the recent pandemic, thousands have died already of famine, malnutrition, injustice, war and so forth. He stressed that one of the most glaring concerns that need urgent solution are the millions of stateless people that are now forced to become refugees. Millions of children, women and the aged died because the third world countries refused to accept them. He cited the thousands of Rohingyas who just arrived on their shores seeking refuge. He said the Rohingyas should not be Malaysian problem but should also be other developed countries’ concern as they practice and share their spirit of humanity. In closing, he said that to solve these concurrent problems, harmony among us is of uttermost importance. We must live in harmony, respect each other, respect the people around us, our families, our neighbors, our municipalities, our state and our country.
H.E. Dr. Abdul Wahid Maktub, Special Adviser to the Minister of Research, Technology and Higher Education of Indonesia and former Ambassador of Indonesia to Qatar, highlights that this global pandemic is warning from God. We also need to take the positive aspect of this crisis. He also said that we sometimes forget who God is in the midst of technology. Because of this disease, we are reminded once again of the role of God in our lives, loving each other and sharing with each other. We tend to forget our position as human beings. This is the time for human reflection on how important unity is. We need to renew our spirit and go back to God. What is brought by UPF is very relevant and should be comprehended and applied in the grounds. We can connect to universal values and universal God. This must be realized by all people. He stressed that everyone is one family and UPF has the moral obligation to spread this teaching to all nations.
Dr. Bibi Jan Mohamed Ayyub, Board Member, Club HEAL from Singapore, said that as she represents the people on the ground, she was able to glean on the challenges that we face in this time of global pandemic. First, there is a need to have an integrative and inclusive approach to engage and involve all members of society so that they may be able to effectively respond and manage this phenomenon of such scale. This approach should permeate across levels where the shared values and synergistic effort of ‘leaders’ at the macro and micro levels are garnered to overcome this global crises; whether the government, the medical authorities, community leaders, civil society, and even the “leaders” in every family within the home settings. Second is to adopt principled-driven policies to ensure the public’s acceptance. That is for organizational leaders must be able to communicate clearly on issues that matters to stakeholders. Third, we must provide timely and appropriate responses. She stressed that a big part of crisis management skills is the ability to observe in order to ensure that we are not only able to function effectively to address issues in our hands, but also mitigating any undesirable or unintended consequences that may occur. Lastly, we need to embrace change graciously by capitalizing on digitalization, the use of social media and network to bring about greater synergy with the community that we are working with.
Ven. Dr. Sobhita, Founder, International Buddhist Education Center in Myanmar, spoke on how the global pandemic has exposed the inherent weaknesses and fundamental flaws that exist within our democratic systems and we as a global community are now even more aware of the futility and fragility of our democratic systems and their ability to adapt and cope with the global crisis. He said that we cannot allow our systems to come to a stop, we must fight to ensure that peace and prosperity continues to be a shared and that the developed nations do not forget about the developing ones whose economic and social recovery will be an even more arduous task. It is imperative that global cooperation and working together for the common good is still important. He stressed that all people, whatever their differences may be, can live together side by side in unison through mutual understanding and respect for one another.
Can you point out at least one or any advantage of COVID19 and maybe a lesson learned, in relation to the climatic change caused by carbon emissions by large international companies?
Dr. Monthip Sriratana: After the COVID 19, the impact of pollution and emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) reduced sharply in the century. How will greenhouse gas change after the lockdown ended? We found that the energy used during the COVID 19 pandemic is less than usual with 4 to 8% reduction or 2,000 to 3,000 tons of CO2 or 6 to 10 times lower. So we can observe that travel is less extensive. In Thailand, the airports are closed. There are only few flights to allow the Thai people back home. There is also less use of energy like coal. Also there is less amount of energy used. For example, I could see less amount of energy in New York. There’s 20% reduced energy used in Paris. We can see that air pollution is less. We can see Mt. Everest from Nepal. The skies are clearer. This will lead in the reduction of greenhouse gas. If we continue to reduce CO2 by 5% every year until CO2 reduction reaches 0 in 2050, we can control the rate of change of the emission and the temperature of the world not more than 1.5 degrees Celsius within this century. I am very pleased to tell you that now Malaysia, according to Dr. Noh Abdullah, Director General of the Health Department, will also soon be COVID 19- free, similar to Thailand. So this is a very good news to Southeast Asia on COVID 19.
Do you agree with the Philippine government’s actions to give funds to low income people under the Social Amelioration Program during the Enhanced Community Quarantine? Or would you rather do something else like build hospitals, support PPE needs and the frontliners, etc?
Hon. Leopoldo Bataoil: Actually, we did all those things that you have mentioned. When the Bayanihan Heal as One Act was enacted, the law that authorized us to provide various assistance to our constituents, when the lockdown was started, we provided the people with food. That was rendered by the national government, providing us with the needed funds for the procurement of various relief goods. Second, when we were provided with the funds to be given to the poorest of the poor who were directly affected by COVID 19. We also did that although there were so many challenges that we faced. For example, in ensuring that the money will really be handled or given to those who are really qualified for the purpose. And all these things we continually ensured. And for those people locked down in their respective homes, we regularly gave them items for their sustenance. But then we cannot provide those things on a regular basis. So strongly from Extreme Enhanced Quarantine Community, we move to General Community where slowly we are now allowing the people to go out and avail of the different commodities that are rendered on a regulated basis. Our people now have managed to subsist with the system that we are in. I believe that’s the right thing to do. However, we in the local setting, we realize that we cannot go on like this for a long period of time. We expect that after June 15, we will be able to go back to normal where trade and commerce will be opened, and transport facilities will be allowed to operate. These are the things that we expect to observe. Although we will continually be guided by the protocols that will be given to us to follow. On that note, I believe that continuing monitoring of the situation will go hand in hand with the level of logistical support and the opening of businesses for this purpose.
We have heard that Cambodia welcomed a cruise ship with passengers that might have been affected by COVID 19 virus. This cruise ship was said to have been rejected by other nations. If this is true, how did Cambodia handle the passengers, and where are they now?
H.E. Sous Yara: First, we have to appreciate our leader, Prime Minister Hun Sen, for his openness and cooperation and so much humanitarian respect. The cruise ship “Westerdam” has been rejected by several countries, by less than 12 countries in the region. So only Cambodia accepted Westerdam on February 14 which is Valentines day. We only received the request 2 days in advance. On February 12, received this request and we coordinated with the US Embassy in Cambodia to identify the registration and to understand the ownership of the ship. We understand that the virus outbreak was just a fear. There were 2400 passengers on board Westerdam. If we left them behind, this ship would have nowhere to go because Cambodia is the last place to berth. At this point, we have contacted our medical experts. We contacted and set up the treatment centers. We contacted our friends from other countries to get the materials to protect our doctors and nurses. With all this ground protection and readiness, Cambodia could be very sure that we could help.
At first, we were short of testing kits. Testing kits is the key for us to build trust. We provided and did random check. To be honest, we did not even have a thousand kits to test the 2400 passengers. But with the random check and trust, it made us more confident that this ship and the passengers and crew on board are not infected. So, we opened and sent them to 14-day quarantine and they were all safe to go home. So, they are now back home. From 41 nations, we received all the word of thanks including the outstanding President Donald Trump who tweeted a message to the world and all other leaders made a phone call to our leader. This is in terms of Westerdam.
With regard to our measures to counter and to detect COVID 19, we have learned from one similarity about the outbreak in Wuhan China. It was like the Chinese New Year during the outbreak in Wuhan. As the outbreak came through Asia is through the airport so our thoughts are on how we can lockdown the cities and the provinces. We had partial lockdown. We only went to the city where the aircraft has landed. Mostly our cases are imported case. Airport is the gateway of the outbreak. WE had to prevent community outbreak. WE impose a temporary school lockdown. Students are the most priority for us. Schools are the first to lockdown. Next, we had partial community lockdown, and then entertainment lockdown. After that, we had strong soldiers volunteers, young medical graduates, 2000 of them went to the hospitals in the provinces.
Also all coming from Thailand from the Songkran Festival had to undergo 14-day quarantine. We encourage everyone to wear mask, in our case, it’s the scarf and practice social distancing. Scarf is our traditional gear and is the immediate prevention for the people who have no ability to buy mask. Social distancing is a rule but not easy to practice. We have flexibility of the government policy, openness, accountability and having the services free of charge. Every COVID 19 patient who will be accepted in our hospitals will be paid for by the government.
How will the coronavirus reshape democracy and governance globally? How will this affect our relationship in the Southeast Asia and the world?
Dr. Abdul Wahid Maktub: All of us realize the new reality which is a big shift from the conventional culture to new culture. Now humans are more self-reliant because of this disease. Now we begin to realize the importance of freedom and interdependence. Now everything is online. We are shifting from conventional to a new one. Before there’s no time for family. Now we have time for family. We begin to diversify and communication is now much more expanded beyond our territory.
Ven. Dr. Sobitha: Democracy after covid-19 shall respect four principle values: value of religion, value of culture and tradition, value of social resiliency, and value of education to all.
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