On a personal level, the ASEAN meeting did not have an august beginning with me. I was stuck in traffic misery for hours, like the so many others. So with a critical eye, I went through articles about the ASEAN in a deliberate fault finding exercise. First was the hoopla that with a P15.5 billion budget, the meeting in the Philippines was too extravagant. It appeared huge compared to the P10.0 billion budget that the Aquino administration spent for the APEC meeting with participation from 21 heads of states. It made the P500.0 million that President FVR spent for the APEC meeting so puny.
And so I noted with special interest the long period that it took ASEAN to make decisions. Its accomplishments were framed in abstract terms such as “deepening the equities market,” “organization of working committees’ and “strategic planning.” I was convinced that the ASEAN is a forum for diplomacy, endless meetings, and the practice of protocol. Fortunately, curiosity got the better of me and I read about the history of the ASEAN. I gained a deep respect for the institution after reading how it began.
It was founded on August 8, 1967 by five Foreign Ministers in the region: Adam Malik of Indonesia, Tun Abdul Razak of Malaysia, S. Rajaratnam of Singapore, Thanat Khoman of Thailand, and our own Foreign Affairs Secretary, Narciso R. Ramos, father of President FVR. The five visionaries saw the need for unity among countries in the region. ASEAN was born in a time of conflict when countries were embattled in disputes. The Philippines and Malaysia were locked in conflict over their claims to Sabah. Indonesia was feuding with Singapore and Malaysia. And there was a raging war in Vietnam where President FVR headed the Philippine Action Group Contingent (PhilCAG). Amidst the chaos in the region, the five founding fathers locked their arms in a spirit of unity and friendship and bound their countries to pursue cooperation and progress. Secretary Ramos eloquently saw the danger from “fragmented economies in Asia with each country pursuing its own limited objective and dissipating its meager resources in the conflicting endeavours of sister states.” The ASEAN was seen as a venue that can “marshall the untapped potential of the countries in the region through more substantial united action.”
And so in a beach resort in Thailand using “sports-shirt diplomacy”, the ASEAN was born. The manner through which the agreement was forged was very ASEAN — informal, polite, and with humor. It is said that “wisecracks on how the ministers played golf ” set the tone for ASEAN diplomacy. The ASEAN uses patient consensus building to arrive at informal understandings and prefers informality and loose arrangements that puts everybody at ease.
But the ASEAN manner has worked. It has to its credit two major treaties: The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in 1976 and the Treaty on Nuclear-WeaponFree Zone in 1996.
And as we enjoy visa-free requirements to enter ASEAN countries, lower tariffs on imports from member countries, major agreements on mobility of people especially foreign workers and professionals, and the possibility of agreeing on a code of conduct on the South China sea, I sincerely say, “Mabuhay ASEAN! Happy 50th anniversary.”
Thank you Secretary Ramos. Like Father, like son.