by: Eina Izabela Zaide Concepcion
At the start of this semester my team and I was introduced to a group known as the EU ASEAN Campaign network. Upon research we read that the organization was “a civil society network monitoring trade talks between the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) criticized Philippine chief trade negotiator for supporting bilateral negotiations with the EU.” And by this description we were actually really excited because the name denoted that we might be dealing with foreign relations. The day came when we actually met them for the first time and we were introduced to Mr. Joseph Purugganan, who was the coordinator of the trade and investor program of EU ASEAN’s parent organization, Focus of the Global South. For a while I actually thought we were talking to a foreigner!
At that first meeting we were drawn by the complexity and sensitivity of the projects that were being addressed by the EU-ASEAN as sir Joseph gave us a birds eye view. The ability of this organization to keep involved, and will of its team to extract information given even the most unfavorable circumstances such as censorship, red tape, corruption and ect was truly remarkable. As we were told the organization would contact different corporations, government offices (both local and national), and sometimes by calling in friends and former colleagues would try to contact the communities affected themselves. They would spend time deciphering various bilateral trade agreements and comparing them with the other. This was obviously an incredibly tedious task on their part. Their methods of analysis involved getting tiny bits and pieces of information from different places and consolidating them to get the big picture. This they had to do so objectively.
For our internship, sir Joseph tasked us to conduct research about a Thai company known as Charoen Phokphand a corporation that manufactures and produces aquafeeds in central Luzon. This was where our journey began.
After a meeting with my team composed of my close knit friends, Earl, Iah, Toni and Rizza where we distributed the work among ourselves, I was tasked to contact the Board of Investments and look for any information regarding Charoen Phokphand ‘s investments in central Luzon.
The first time I tried contacting the government agency that Joseph suggested, when I mentioned that I was looking for information about Charoen Phokphand, they told me that that was a controversial issue so they couldn’t answer any questions, and would then connect me to the legal department. Upon being transferred to the legal department I would them ask the name of the person with whom the earlier department told me I should speak with. The secretary said he was out for a meeting, and she told me to call back in a few hours. After a few hours I called again and the secretary said that he was still at that meeting. A few days later I called the agency again, and as excepted was once again transferred to the legal department. Upon being transferred to the legal department, I waited ceaselessly at the dial tone. It was 2 pm, no one picked up. I tried calling the legal department again and still no one picked up. When I borrowed my friend’s phone, who was just beside me, I called again, and this time they picked up. This was enthralling. Upon calling with my phone they refused to pick up but only after a few seconds interval using a different phone they answered. I got suspicious. I used a different name to address my concerns, and as was expected, he still was in “the meeting”. This time the secretary didn’t know what time he would finish, and she put down the phone before I could ask any more questions.
The questions and thoughts going through my head were mind-boggling. They were obviously shying away, fearfully withholding information from the Filipino people. The silence was unbearable. In this culture plagued with censorship, red tape and corruption, what deep dark secrets could the Philippine Government be hiding from the Filipino people?