President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, in his opening remarks during the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit plenary at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City on November 13, 2017, declares that the plenary session will be the avenue for them to continue their discussions on how to further consolidate their efforts and shared aspirations toward an ASEAN Community that is rules-based, people-oriented, and people-centered. Ace Morandante/Presidential Photo

MANILA – Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have committed to champion regional cooperation on protecting and promoting migrant workers’ rights.

President Rodrigo Duterte, chair of the ASEAN, announced that he and the other ASEAN leaders have agreed to sign the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.   “I’ll join them in signing this landmark document,” Duterte said at the opening of ASEAN’s 31st Summit in Manila.

The signing of the document is part of activities for the 10-nation bloc’s two-day summit this week.  The bloc identified protection of migrant workers’ rights as among the measures to help bring forth a secure and prosperous ASEAN community.  The move is in line with the Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, which ASEAN adopted in January 2007.

The ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers seeks to promote decent, humane, productive, dignified and remunerative employment for migrant workers and acknowledges need to address cases of abuse and violence against them.

Earlier this year, the World Bank reported that intra-regional migration in ASEAN “increased significantly” between 1995 and 2015.  It identified Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand as the regional migration hubs with 6.5 million migrants, comprising some 96 percent of ASEAN’s total migrant worker population.

“ASEAN migrants are often low-skilled and undocumented who are compelled to move in search of economic opportunity, mainly in the construction, plantation and domestic services sectors,” the World Bank report indicated.  However, it noted mobility issues are preventing workers from taking advantage of opportunities for available higher-salary jobs.

Through its Sept. 13, 2017 joint ministerial statement, the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) Council manifested support for ASEAN leaders’ consideration of the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.

The ASCC also sought such “living and evolving” document’s full and effective implementation. “The many years of tireless negotiations have brought to forth many issues surrounding labor migration and enabled member states to better understand one another and work out solutions towards better protection and promotion of rights of our migrant workers,” the ASCC Council said.

The 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summit formally opened Monday at the Cultural Center of the Philippines with the 10 leaders of the regional bloc and its dialogue partners in attendance. Aside from ASEAN leaders, among those present during the opening ceremony were Vice President Leni Robredo, former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and other members of the Senate and the Cabinet.

Duterte led the opening ceremony after he welcomed the nine other leaders of the bloc and its dialogue partners — US President Donald Trump, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, European Council President Donald Tusk and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres — in a gala dinner at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City Sunday.

For the rest of the summit, Duterte said ASEAN leaders will be focusing on community-building and cooperation that would steer the association’s direction in the ASEAN Plus Three and the 12th East Asia Summit.   The summit will also tackle health, women and the youth, terrorism, radicalization and violent extremism, trafficking, poverty alleviation, food security, coastal and marine environment, and the pursuit of innovation for economies, among others.

The summit will end on Tuesday in a ceremony where the Philippines will pass the ASEAN chairpersonship to Singapore.-Radzini Oledan/