ICAS 10
 

Keynote Roundtable

Upholding Democratic Values in Southeast Asia: Intellectual Freedom and Public Engagement

This ICAS public plenary roundtable seeks to address the situation of democratic deficit prevailing in most Southeast Asian countries today by focusing on the social and political roles of three public intellectuals whose backgrounds and achievements make them unique as both actors and witnesses of their countries’ recent history.

Maria Serena I. Diokno is a trained historian from the Philippines who teaches at the University of the Philippines at Diliman. She is the founder of the Southeast Asian Studies Regional Programme (SEASREP) – a renowned network of humanistic scholars from Southeast Asia. From 2012 to 2016, she served as the chairman of the National Heritage Board of the Philippines, a position she left in order to protest the policies of President Duterte.

Son Soubert is a trained art historian from Cambodia who teaches at the Royal University of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh. He has been involved in the political, diplomatic and humanitarian realms of action surrounding the return to peace in Cambodia since the wake of the UN mission there in 1992. He has served as both an opposition MP and a member of the Constitutional Council from where he has remained a vocal opponent to Prime Minister Hun Sen and his friends in power.

Jon Ungpakorn is a trained engineer and prominent human rights activist from Thailand who is considered by most as a founding father of Thai NGOs. Mr. Ungpakorn founded many civic organisations, starting with the AIDS-Access Foundation in the early 1990s. He first became involved in Thai politics when he was elected as senator in 2000, and when he joined the Health Committee and Social Development and Human Security Committee. He is also the founder of Prachatai, a web-based news website specialized in human rights and politics.

Some questions immediately come to mind: to what extent does the weakness of an entrenched culture of political and social democracy in many Southeast Asian countries today stem from difficulties - if not impossibilities - to articulate intellectual freedoms with acts of social and political public engagement?What could ideally be the role of civic, educational, cultural institutions and their members to uphold a real culture of accountability in Southeast Asian contexts?

All three speakers have played and continue to play an active part in the public life of their countries where they are regarded as inspiring figures. They share the same quest for justice and democratic rights for their countrymen and women. They will, in their own way, reflect on their capacity to stay free from the danger of turning into ‘official intellectuals’ serving the social and political status quo.

The three 20-minute public talks will be followed by an open Q&A session.