Search­ing for the miss­ing ‘I’ in Asean

Sun.Star Davao - - OPINION -

Ablooper hap­pened be­fore the 31st Asean Sum­mit hap­pened, as ne­ti­zens saw a glar­ing mis­spelling in the wel­come tarps in Manila’s high­way where Philip­pines was mis­spelled miss­ing one let­ter “I”.

That miss­ing “I” gave ne­ti­zens a rea­son to bash the hype and lav­ish spend­ing of host­ing the Asean to the tune of 15-bil­lion pe­sos. But the miss­ing let­ter “I” is kind of sym­bolic of how such big events, big talks of big coun­tries, are marginal­iz­ing us.

For in­stance, the miss­ing “I” stands for the in­dige­nous peo­ples com­ing Min­danao, Cordillera and other places. They are out on the streets protest­ing Asean. Why, be­cause they have an is­sue against large-scale min­ing owned by Amer­ica (St. Au­gus­tine Mines in Pan­tukan) and Canada (which partly owns Glen­core in Tam­pakan and Toronto Ventues in Zam­boanga del Norte) which en­croached on an­ces­tral lands, and we in­clude plan­ta­tions ex­port­ing fruits to Ja­pan and China. The land that should have pro­vide food se­cu­rity and eco­log­i­cal bal­ance is sac­ri­ficed for gold, cop­per, plan­ta­tions and dol­lars.

The miss­ing “I” also stands for Maria Is­abel Lopez. Poor lady. I ad­mire her art and ad­vo­cacy. What she did in the Manila high­way is stir­ring de­bate on whether her act was wrong or right. But be­yond that point, she rep­re­sents the tired mo­torists and com­muters, who saw the grid­lock of Apec in 2015 and its re­peat in the Asean sum­mit. The coun­try needs to know bet­ter how to host big in­ter­na­tional events with­out sac­ri­fic­ing the or­di­nary and not-so-or­di­nary peo­ple like Is­abel.

But the more se­ri­ous miss­ing thing here is the in­de­pen­dent for­eign pol­icy. Duterte once said no for­eign coun­tries could dic­tate on him, and once said Asean should stand up on its own, re­v­erse and wel­comed US Pres­i­dent Trump, loud­mouth, or­ange and all, who promised a Free Trade Agree­ment (FTA) be­tween the two coun­tries.

Where is in­de­pen­dence when such sum­mit ac­com­mo­dates the in­ter­ests and in­vest­ments of su­per­pow­ers United States and also Canada who are not even Asian coun­tries? Their in­vest­ments are made at the ex­pense of our own econ­omy. Imag­ine more Amer­i­can goods, fac­to­ries, BPOs and ser­vices flood­ing our econ­omy. We’re buy­ing Amer­i­can in­stead of our own goods. It’s al­most like sur­plus trash here, and we’re not men­tion­ing the garbage vans Canada dumped on us be­cause we’re daz­zled by the Cana­dian PM play­ing cutesy at Jol­libee.

What is clear is, the real mean­ing of “I” is im­port-de­pen­dence. Which is ba­si­cally, glob­al­iza­tion and lib­er­al­iza­tion of trade and in­vest­ments. And it’s not free trade in re­al­ity, it’s un-fair trade.

The think-tank Ibon men­tioned our agri­cul­ture pro­duc­tion has dropped to 9% of the coun­try’s GDP. Asean’s to­tal for­eign in­vest­ments is dom­i­nated by Ja­pan to the tune of $33.6 bil­lion. Half of this is in­vested in man­u­fac­tur­ing. In other words, Asean coun­tries like us, is just play­ing the role of a global man­u­fac­tur­ing belt or as­sem­bly line for goods owned by Ja­pan and other coun­tries. What’s wor­ri­some is our econ­omy is at­tuned to the global needs by pro­vid­ing cheap la­bor. I won­der why can’t we nur­ture our own best minds and in­dus­tries.

That said, with all the traf­fic, hype and our fu­ture sold to the high­est in­vestor, Isn’t it time to say I mat­ter in this global scheme of things?

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