Still on Asean. Bear with me, folks, we’d probably never get these opportunities again. In fact, by the time you read this, the 31st Asean Summit and the Asean Business and Investment Summit 2017 would have gone underway, but I am getting ahead of myself. These are exciting times for the country as host, in a milestone year at that, and if you cannot catch any of that excitement or pride, well, I’d rather not say. 

As part of the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of Asean, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), under the able leadership of  Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, together with the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the Philippine government under the tutelage of  Ambassador Claro Cristobal, Director-General, and the Economic Research Institute for Asean and East Asia (ERIA) headed by Chairman Datu Paduka Lim Jock Hoi and President Professor Hidetoshi Nishimura, hosted the High-Level Forum on [email protected] last October at the Conrad, Manila with the theme “Retrospectives and Perspectives on the Making, Substance, Significance and Future of Asean”. 

The High-Level Forum was also organized with support from the Japan-Asean Integration Fund (JAIF) and the Asean Foundation. 

This Forum was a first in many respects in that it involved a sitting Head of State, former Heads of State, Ministers, former Ministers and former Asean Secretaries-General; hence, the reason why it was called “High-Level”. 

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte delivered the keynote speech where he declared Asean as one of the most successful regional organizations in the world. In the same vein, he called upon Asean leaders to imbibe the importance of Asean in their respective peoples and on its impact in their daily lives. He also said that the people of Asean member-states must own the Asean story as their own and to treat its future as their future as well. 

Former President and now Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was one of the invited speakers, as well as the former Prime Minister of Thailand Abhisit Vejjajiva. Both leaders—who, by the way, were contemporaries—spoke of their vast experience in Asean affairs. They touched on the importance of the stability in inter-state relations, the plethora of challenges the region faces both on the political and economic front, and on socio-cultural cooperation. 

I was once again asked to do the yeoman’s job of moderating the morning panel discussion which revolved around “Asean: Partnering for Change, Engaging the World.” I thank Dr. Ponciano “Pons” Intal Jr., Ph.D., ERIA Senior Economist, respected expert on Asean, and member of the organizing committee, for the invitation to moderate.  

The resource persons in this discussion were Honorable Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Dewa Dato Seri Setia Lim Jock Seng, Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Brunei Darussalam; my good friend Ambassador Delia Albert, former Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs; Professor Dr. Mely Caballero-Anthony of the Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; Ambassador Le Cong Phung, former First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam; Professor Dr. Mari Elka Pangestu, former Minister of Trade and Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy of Indonesia; and Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand and former Asean Secretary-General.  

The panel members shared with the audience—composed of members of the academe, government, media, civil society, and international organizations—their views on several aspects on Asean. One topic which particularly elicited a lively and engaging discussion was whether the Asean Way needed to be reframed in the light of an evolving new world order. 

These were, indeed, heavyweights not only in their respective countries but also in their respective fields. It was a daunting task to navigate the discussion as an erstwhile ship captain would through rock-strewn passages and jagged coastlines. But into a calm and serene bay we steered, so to speak, as all agreed that the significance of the role of Asean not just as a regional organization but also as a strategic aggrupation in the global politic should not be downplayed or undermined.  

The Forum was also the occasion to launch the five-volume commemorative publication on [email protected] which presents the Asean story for the past half-century from the viewpoint of governments, peoples, communities and other stakeholders. 

Asean heads of state and other world leaders, headed by the two most powerful nations, the United States of America and the People s Republic of China, are now in Manila. The Asean Summit will again showcase Asean as a model of regionalism. As a region, let us take advantage of this present platform to show that Asean can take the lead and not just be a bystander in world affairs. As a nation, let us show that, under our Chairmanship, Asean will soar to greater heights in the next 50 years.  

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