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close this bookConflict over Natural Resources in South-East Asia and the Pacific (UNU, 1990, 256 pages)
close this folder2. Conflict over land-based natural resources in the ASEAN countries
View the document(introductory text...)
View the document2.1 The ASEAN region: great wealth and great strife
View the document2.2 The historical roots of conflict
View the document2.3 The plunder of forest resources
View the document2.4 The transformation of a natural resource: from agriculture to agribusiness
View the document2.5 Conflicts over mineral resources
View the document2.6 Development and tribal peoples: resistance to displacement
View the document2.7 Natural resource abuses: a time for change
View the documentReferences

2.2 The historical roots of conflict

The ASEAN region has been a region of conflict. In varying degrees, the six member countries are continuing to experience social unrest born out of conflicts over the use of natural resources and the distribution of the economic product of this wealth. In the Philippines, a 12,000-man New People's Army (NPA) guerrilla army led by the Communist Party has been a major thorn in the side of the government, first to the Marcos regime and now to the Aquino administration, and a hindrance to the consolidation of power in that country. There has been a resurgence of land conflicts in Indonesia, raising the spectre of the pre-1965 agrarian unrest. In Malaysia, despite the low profile of the armed leftist movement, the government feels insecure enough to continue its Internal Security Act (ISA). Until recently, Thailand was the scene of various encounters between government troops and a well-equipped leftist guerrilla movement.

A common characteristic of the region is its history of colonial or semi-colonial rule. With the exception of Thailand, all of the ASEAN states underwent a period of direct colonial rule, a process that transformed native societies and incorporated their economies into a world capitalist system. Thailand's signing of the Bowring Treaty in 1855 put it into a situation similar to that of its colonized neighbours vis-à-vis the advanced Western nations (Chiengkul, 1983: 30-1). Colonial economic policies were based on the systematic plunder of the natural resources of the subjugated nations. The introduction of Western concepts of property, including private ownership of land, engendered major conflicts and was the cause of countless anticolonial revolts launched by dispossessed peasants and ethnic groups. In the massive transfer of wealth generated by natural resources from the colony to the colonial power, nationalist elites also saw a justification for the launching of nation-wide anti-colonial movements, which eventually gained independence for their peoples. However, foreign exploitation of national resources did not end with the demise of direct colonialism. The Philippines was forced to accept the 'parity' agreement, by which American nationals were granted the right to exploit natural resources with as much ease as Filipinos. Malaya's tin, rubber, and oil-palm plantations continued to be controlled by the British long after the country attained independence. Under Sukarno, Indonesia tried to reverse the pattern by confiscating Dutch estates, but when he was toppled in 1966, his successor, Suharto, opened the economy to foreign participation and influence (Palmer, 1978: 82-3). Thailand became increasingly dependent on the United States for loans and investments. In short, the ending of colonialism did not result in the Ulltyillg of the economies of the ASEAN region to the needs of the advanced industrial capitalist states.

The issue of conflict over natural resources must be situated in the political, social, and cultural contexts of the countries in which they occur, in this case the ASEAN states. The region as a whole will be examined in this chapter, but the emphasis will be on the Philippines.