Cognizant on the emergence of new forms of transnational crime amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 64 senior officials from the 10 member countries of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has committed to stronger regional collaboration to end people smuggling, illicit trafficking of wildlife and timber on top of their existing areas of cooperation on transnational crimes in the region.
During the first-ever virtual meeting of the ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime (SOMTC), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo M. Año urged the country delegations to forge stronger partnerships to investigate, prosecute, punish and rehabilitate the perpetrators of transnational crime.
“In moving into the better normal, we, the ASEAN Member States, must strengthen our bonds so as not to give transnational criminals the opportunity to disrupt our efforts in saving lives, recovering from the pandemic, rebuilding our economies, and improving the wellbeing of our people,” Año said.
“As both transnational crimes and COVID-19 favors no people, race or social class, all of us must work together to cure the deep and longstanding scars that these problems have left on our hands. Together let us share with the rest of the world the greater cause of putting an end to these worldwide tormentors,” he added.
Hosted by the Philippines, the 20th ASEAN SOMTC virtual meeting was attended by country representatives and ASEAN Secretariat from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Año called for the signing of treaties among the member states in areas of criminal justice, mutual legal assistance and extradition to ensure that transnational organized crime groups cannot capitalize on the pandemic to advance their criminal interests.
He also urged the member countries to build a robust and open communications network and feedback mechanism among themselves so that nations can freely interact and share relevant information with each other.
ASEAN declaration vs transnational crime
DILG Undersecretary and SOMTC Philippines Leader Bernardo C. Florece, Jr said that the ASEAN member countries unanimously reaffirmed their commitment to continue its close cooperation to prevent and combat transnational crime including illicit drug trafficking and illicit trafficking of wildlife and timber as new areas of cooperation in addition to terrorism, trafficking in persons, cybercrime, arms smuggling, money laundering, international economic crime, sea piracy, and sea robbery.
Florece said that part of the ASEAN cooperation is the strengthened capacity of the criminal justice system, law enforcement, and intelligence units with relevant regional and international organizations such as the landmark signing of Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), Task Force COVID-19 Kontra Peke, Wildlife Agency and Citizen Law Enforcement Reporting Tool or WildALERT, and Integrated Case Management System among others
According to the Global Terrorism Index, Philippines is among the countries most impacted by terrorism with serious security challenges from communist terrorists groups such as the New People’s Army and its political arm the Communist Party of the Philippines and its front organizations, and violent extremists groups such as Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and the Maute Group.
The Chair of the 20th SOMTC virtual meeting, Florece urged the country representatives not to let their guards down as transnational criminals may very well take advantage of the health threat caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now is the time for us, the ASEAN members to show our solidarity and concern for one another through forums like this where we can map out our plans for the greater good of the vulnerable sectors of the society and the greater good of the people” Florece said.
The 20th SOMTC is a collaborative effort of the DILG as the SOMTC Philippines Leader and other relevant agencies of the government with the Philippine Center on Transnational Crime as SOMTC Philippines Secretariat. The other members of the Philippine delegation are the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and Women and Children Protection Center of the Philippine National Police, among others.
The next ASEAN SOMTC event will be held in Brunei Darrusalam sometime in 2021.