Advancing the cause of peace in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic

Published April 18, 2021, 12:18 AM

by Former House Speaker Jose C. De Venecia Jr.

PEACE-MAKER

Jose de Venecia Jr.
Former Speaker of the House

Three days from now, on April 21, we will preside at the meeting of the 39-member standing committee of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), which we will do so from our respective homes or offices in different Asian countries and in various time zones, thanks to modern communications technology.

As some may know, the ICAPP is composed of some 350 ruling and opposition political parties from 52 countries in Asia, which we founded and launched in Manila in September, 2000. We are privileged to serve as ICAPP founding chairman and chairman of the standing committee since the year 2000.

Seoul is home to the Secretariat of ICAPP, which is headed by the former South Korean Ambassador to Myanmar and to Malaysia Cho Byung-jae.

The ICAPP Secretariat used to be led by Ambassador Chung Eui-yong, who is currently South Korea’s minister of foreign affairs and concurrently our co-chairman in the ICAPP standing committee. He earlier served as his country’s national security adviser.

This columnist decided to transfer the ICAPP Secretariat from Manila where it was founded, to Seoul, in 2006, in our humble desire to contribute, even in a modest way, to help foster peace and reconciliation in the Korean peninsula through the channel of political parties.

South Korea’s mainstream political parties and North Korea’s Workers Party are members of ICAPP.

We have spent these last two decades bringing together Asia’s political groupings into the ICAPP; and our national legislatures into the Asian Parliamentary Assembly (APA), both of which have grown rapidly into advanced organizations.

The Asian impulse toward unity is so strong that, in both cases, we have succeeded beyond our expectations.

ICAPP has on its list some 350 political parties – ruling, opposition and independent -– from 52 countries in Asia, including the major political parties in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, APA now has some 40 member-parliaments and was earlier called the Association of Asian Parliaments for Peace (AAPP), until we proposed in Islamabad in December, 2006 its conversion from AAPP to become the Asian Parliamentary Assembly (APA), in hopes it can be a forerunner of an eventual Asian Parliament like the European Parliament or African Parliament.

We also transferred the APA headquarters from Manila to Tehran to bring APA into an Asia-wide organization, instead of limited to East Asia, and to help bring Iran into the mainstream.

We also regard as eminently praiseworthy the establishment in Washington DC, in 2016, of the International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP), composed of former and incumbent members of parliament as distinguished from the institutional parliaments themselves.

Rightfully the individual governments and the global community are focused on combating the raging deadly COVID-19 pandemic, as it continues to devastate lives, communities and economies. We should, however, carry on the work and initiatives for peace. The COVID-19 plague threatens the hard-won gains in building a just and lasting peace in conflict areas.

We can never understate our need for peace, especially in the light of the many difficult, intractable political, territorial, religious, separatist, ideological, and ethnic conflicts in Asia and in various parts of the world. One of these lingering tensions is in our country’s own backyard, the West Philippine Sea.

The COVID-19 pandemic is also a threat to international peace and security.

***

As we watched on television the tributes to the late Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, we remembered our halcyon years residing and working in London in the late 1970s until the early 1980s, overseeing our Filipino-led projects in the Middle East and North Africa.

We were then a businessman pioneering in the Arab world; engaged in port operations, infrastructure and electrification in Saudi Arabia; oil drilling in the United Arab Emirates (UAE); mass housing in Iraq; and infrastructure in Libya as prime contractor, not as labor recruiter, contending then with large international companies. We coordinated these business ventures from our office in the British capital while travelling to the Arab capitals almost every month. It has been some 40 years since we left London and moved back to Manila and eventually run again for public office.

The last time we travelled to London was in May, 2018 when we addressed the second meeting of the Asia-Europe Political Forum (AEPF), a subsidiary group of our International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), composed of Asian and European parliamentarians and political party leaders, which convenes once every two years.

As we earlier mentioned in this column, the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic early last year has halted our modest foray in political party and parliamentary diplomacy in Asia and the international community. Our meetings and speaking engagements are currently carried out virtually.

In the meantime, we continue to storm heaven with prayers that this raging plague will soon be stamped out so we can reopen our economy and live “normal” lives again, indeed for all peoples of the world.

 
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