By Manny Villar
I wrote 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.
(For comments/feedback email to: mbv.secretariat gmail or www.mannyvillar.com.ph.)