Mabuhay ASEAN

Manila Bulletin - - Business News -

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.

mgue­vara@syn­ergeia.org.ph

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