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By Roy C. Mabasa

Among Filipinos, little is known about the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, due to surprisingly, low awareness, even as the Philippines is one of the founding member-states of the association back in 1967.

However, as chairman of this year’s summit to be held in Manila and Clark, the Duterte administration has initiated important steps to make the public aware of the benefits and significance of ASEAN, particularly in its political, economic, and socio-cultural impact to the Philippines.

EARLY BIRDS – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi are accorded military honors upon arrival at the Clark International Airport yesterday ahead of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit here. Photo shows President Rodrigo Roa Duterte interacting with employees of the Furama Resort in Da Nang, Vietnam where he is attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit. (Jansen Romero, Alvin Kasiban, Malacañang Photo)

Stuck between two powerful states – India and China – ASEAN represents nearly all of Southeast Asia. Though its combined population of around 620 million is only half compared to India’s 1.2 billion and China’s 1.3 billion, GDP in the region has reached more than US$2.2 trillion, which is at par with India’s US2.182 trillion but lags behind China’s US$18 trillion.

ASEAN counts Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam as members.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, and State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi

The chaos of China’s cultural revolution in the 1960s as well as the presence of the US military in Indo-China due to the Vietnam War and the disastrous economic planning of India’s government has given ASEAN member nations the breathing room and time to develop until the 1980s and present times.


Economic benefits

The Philippines is expected to reap numerous economic benefits from hosting the ASEAN Summit and related meetings, Ambassador Marciano Paynor said in an interview.

“Ang advantage natin dito is, dahil isang grupo tayo na bumubuo sa ASEAN na halos 650 million tayo, mataas ang growth rate ng ASEAN, mga nasa mahigit 5 percent (Our advantage here is, because we are one group that makes up the ASEAN, with a population of about 650 million, growth rate is high, about five percent),” Paynor, director general for operations of the ASEAN 2017 National Organizing Council, pointed out.

“So ang ibig sabihin nito sa ekonomiya, maraming advantages tayo na makikita,  kumbaga, dahil nga sa sama-sama tayo. So ‘yun ang isang malaking importansya ng membership natin sa ASEAN (There are many advantages to our economy),” he added.

Hosting the year-long events and meetings this year as chairman of the ASEAN 2017, the Philippines is one of the five founding states of the regional bloc. It has set six thematic priorities to be discussed by ASEAN leaders. These include peace and stability, maritime security and cooperation, inclusive and innovation-led growth, as well as concepts of resiliency, people-oriented and people-centered and model of regionalism and global player.

These priorities are vital to the regional bloc, which is considered the third largest and the second-fastest growing economy in Asia and seventh largest in the world, according to the US-ASEAN Business Council.

Importance of the Summit

“Since we are a founding member, it is a great honor for the Philippines that we chair the 50th, plus the fact that we have plenty of intiatives that we believe the time is ripe to have them,” DFA spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar stressed.

It’s a great opportunity for the Philippines to unveil them, to release them and have it approved by the leaders during our chairmanship at the 50th year. Because it’s like being in a crossroads, you assess what has happened for the past 50 years and then you project forward for the next 50 years. If you notice our engagements are all about what the next 50 years hold for ASEAN, he said.

For his part, Paynor stressed that despite criticisms from sector due to the huge amount of funds to be used in hosting the summit, it would have considerable impact on the lives of more than 100 million Filipinos.

Philippines initiatives

“Ten years ago when we last chaired ASEAN, we proposed the conclusion of the legal instrument on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers,” Bolivar said.

But this did not push through because of time constraints with only an ASEAN declaration – the Cebu Declaration – regarding the matter.

Ten years later, the leaders are expected to sign on November 13 the ASEAN consensus on concerns for migrant workers, giving the Philippines a full circle moment which began during the term of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Philippine migrants comprise 10 percent of the country’s population, or roughly 10 million, and their welfare falls as one of the primary concerns of the Philippine government.

Other initiatives

Support for the ASEAN secretariat is a big thing because it means community-building.

In this year’s summit, a series of videos will be launched which deals on the ASEAN Masterplan on Connectivity.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano will lead the ceremonial launch of videos to get the private sector and the civil society onboard on the projects and to link the entire region not only in infrastructure or transportation but regulatory and institutional linkages as well.

“Besides this, we do have a drug-free ASEAN and we want to see what progress has been made so far in this aspect. Although not a Philippine initiative, it takes centerfold like the issues of piracy and terrorism,” the DFA spokesperson said.

The Philippines has a trilateral agreement with Malaysia and Indonesia regarding these concerns and they will be discussed on how regional cooperation could be strengthened.

Significance of ASEAN

Bolivar insists that the ASEAN has significance to the Philippines but how do Filipinos see it?

“Pag tinatanong sa akin sa mga interviews, first on tourism sa Philippines. Since January at the start of our chairmanship, we hosted 256 meetings and multiply that by 10 countries and with each country will have at least five delegates each. Ganoon karaming delegates ang nagpunta sa Pilipinas for the whole year. In terms of tourism income, we don’t shoulder their hotels, transport, etc., all these funds are channeling into the national economy, may mga multiplier effects like job creation, tourism promotion, etc.,” he disclosed.

He added that as part of ASEAN, the Philippines would have a strong voice outside.

“For instance in terms of tourism. Now we don’t just promote Philippines as a tourism destination but we coupled it with other ASEAN states. Thailand can promote Visit Thailand and the Philippines. Sumasakay tayo sa kanila. Lumalawak na ang reach natin in terms of tourism promotion,” the DFA official explained.

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