ASEAN en­gag­ing the world

Manila Bulletin - - Editorial - By MANNY VIL­LAR (For com­ments/feed­back email to: mbv. sec­re­tar­iat gmail or­nyvil­

IWROTE in my col­umn last week on the im­por­tance of host­ing the 31st ASEAN Sum­mit amidst our tran­si­tion from a for­eign pol­icy of fear to one which is as­sertive of our in­ter­est as a sov­er­eign na­tion and an equal part­ner to the world. For this rea­son, the theme cho­sen for this year’s ASEAN is very ap­pro­pri­ate, “Part­ner­ing for Change, En­gag­ing the World.”

While we need to de­fend our in­de­pen­dence, we also need to re­al­ize the value of en­gag­ing with the com­mu­nity of na­tions. Mod­ern tech­nolo­gies — specif­i­cally in terms of com­mu­ni­ca­tions — have made the in­te­gra­tion of economies, the meet­ing of cul­tures and the glob­al­iza­tion of trade pos­si­ble.

But glob­al­iza­tion, the open­ing up of bor­ders and re­moval of trade bar­ri­ers come with its own evils which ASEAN, as a re­gional or­ga­ni­za­tion must squarely face. Ter­ror­ism, the refugee prob­lem, cli­mate change and other se­ri­ous is­sues have now be­come transna­tional. So­cial and po­lit­i­cal prob­lems, just like fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions, have tran­scended bor­ders.

The Sum­mit should be over as this col­umn goes to print, but I hope the lead­ers of ASEAN came up with a united front against the chal­lenges of our times. These are prob­lems that af­fect us all and the so­lu­tion to which are only pos­si­ble if we co­op­er­ate.

There is so much at stake for ASEAN. The re­gion’s com­bined GDP is at $2.55 tril­lion in 2016 cou­pled with a real GDP growth rate of 4.7%. The Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank (ADB) has pro­jected that ASEAN’s econ­omy will grow by 4.8% this year. The of­fi­cial state­ment of the 30th ASEAN Sum­mit which was also held here in Manila cited the “solid growth of pri­vate con­sump­tion and in­vest­ment as well as ex­pan­sion­ary fis­cal pol­icy.”

It is im­por­tant to ac­cel­er­ate ASEAN in­te­gra­tion un­der the Philippine chair­man­ship which has adopted the theme, “In­clu­sive, In­no­va­tion-led Growth.”

I am glad that the strat­egy in­volves “in­te­grat­ing mi­cro, small and medium en­ter­prises (MSMEs) in the Dig­i­tal Econ­omy, and de­vel­op­ing an in­no­va­tion-driven econ­omy.

I have al­ways fought for MSMEs when I was a leg­is­la­tor be­cause I be­lieve that they are crit­i­cal en­gines of growth and sus­tain­able progress.

ASEAN in­te­gra­tion will al­low the free ex­change and move­ment of goods and ser­vices across the re­gion and could lead to larger mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties for Philippine busi­nesses, which in turn would cre­ate more jobs op­por­tu­ni­ties for our peo­ple. It is this eco­nomic po­ten­tial of ASEAN that we need to sus­tain and pro­tect by en­sur­ing peace, se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity in the re­gion.

I am pleased that de­spite strong rhetoric re­gard­ing the is­sue of the South China Sea, ASEAN coun­tries have “reaf­firmed (their) shared com­mit­ment… to the peace­ful res­o­lu­tion of dis­putes, in­clud­ing full re­spect for le­gal and diplo­matic pro­cesses, with­out re­sort­ing to the threat or use of force, in ac­cor­dance with the uni­ver­sally rec­og­nized prin­ci­ples of in­ter­na­tional law, in­clud­ing the 1982 United Na­tions Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”

The pre­vi­ous sum­mit also com­mit­ted to the suc­cess­ful im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Treaty of Amity and Co­op­er­a­tion in South­east Asia (TAC) “as the key code of con­duct gov­ern­ing in­ter-State re­la­tions in the re­gion, an im­por­tant in­stru­ment in the pro­mo­tion of an ASEAN-cen­tered re­gional ar­chi­tec­ture, and a foun­da­tion for the main­te­nance of re­gional peace and sta­bil­ity.”

I am also hope­ful that ASEAN can show a united front in the fight against vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism and global ter­ror­ism. Our re­gion has had its fair share of vi­o­lent acts in­flicted upon our peo­ple.

The more re­cent of which is the Marawi Siege which our armed forces valiantly sup­presses. Our Marawi vic­tory sent a strong mes­sage to ex­trem­ists, specif­i­cally ISIS and their af­fil­i­ates, that we will not al­low them to take root in ASEAN by ter­ror­iz­ing our peo­ple and our coun­try.

With a strong re­gional econ­omy and a ro­bust re­la­tion­ship with world pow­ers such as China, Rus­sia and the United States, I am con­fi­dent that ASEAN can ful­fill the dream it set out 50 years ago. ***

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