By: Lor Jay L. Basbas
Migration in Southeast Asia became a trend as the community building process together with the regional integration, institutional harmonization, regional infrastructure connectivity, labor market information, and commercialization was practiced (Chheang, 2013). Therefore, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) also created actions and initiatives as one region to ensure the inclusivity and security of migrants within and beyond the region.
First, what is ASEAN? The history of Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN can be traced back from August 8, 1967 at Bangkok, Thailand where the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia (Adam Malik), Malaysia (Tun Abdul Razak), the Philippines (Narciso R. Ramos), Singapore (S. Rajaratnam) and Thailand (Thanat Khoman) gathered together at Department of Foreign Affairs building in Bangkok and signed a simple short document containing five articles, that declares the establishment of an Association for Regional Cooperation among the Countries of Southeast Asia to be known as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and indicates its purposes and aims as an association (ASEAN n.d.). The purpose of the establishment was to accelerate the economic growth, social progress, and cultural development in the region, and promote regional peace and stability (NTI, n.d.). The ASEAN’s first summit was held in 1976 at Bali, Indonesia, and by 1978. In 1984, Brunei joined the ASEAN, and in 1995, Vietnam joined also. Laos and Myanmar joined ASEAN in 1997, and the last country to join the ASEAN was the Kingdom of Cambodia in 1999 (Reuters, 2007).
As the definition and history of ASEAN was now established, we must now know what is the role of Migrant Workers in the region. The United Nations estimates that there are around 10 million international migrant workers in ASEAN countries, and 7 million intra-ASEAN migrant workers, which means that the migrant workers came within the region also. Migrant workers make an important contribution towards the ASEAN economy. Excluding Brunei and Singapore, a total of $75 billion remittances from migrants were recorded in 2018, indicates that it is an important lifeline to households in sending states (Ducanes, et. al., 2020).
Given this importance, how does the ASEAN ensure the inclusivity and protection of migrant workers, at the same time their security? ASEAN member states inserted effort for the migrant workers, and the Philippines played a pivotal role in that.
The ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers ensures the migrant workers’ inclusivity and security, and were agreed by all the member states (Chheang, 2013), since migrant workers are exposed on discrimination and laws for them in their destination countries were lacking (Oliver, 2018). As all member states declare to treasure and honor the potential and dignity of migrant workers, the ASEAN member countries fully commit to extending assistance for migrant workers who were caught in conflict or crisis even outside the region. This was signed during the 12th ASEAN Summit on 13 January 2007 at Cebu, Philippines. The declaration includes the obligations of receiving and sending states towards migrant workers and its commitment as a region, which is to ensure and promote their rights, welfare, and protection.
In November 14, 2017, during the 31st ASEAN Summit where the Philippines was the Chair, the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers was signed at Manila, that strengthened the commitment of the member states on the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers signed in the Philippines also in year 2007, that further expounds and strengthened the obligations of the receiving and sending countries, which now includes fundamental rights of migrant workers and the members of their family, and specific rights of migrant workers.
The effort of the Philippines as a state towards migrant workers protection in the international arena can be trailed to the Philippine Foreign Policy. One of the three pillars of the Philippine Foreign Policy was the protection of Filipino nationals overseas. Because of this, the Philippines ensures that OFWs will be included and protected.
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