February 25, 2018, 9:42 am
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Thumbs up and down at Asean

I PERSONALLY give a thumbs up as our overall grade in hosting the last Asean meeting under our watch as country chair. I am told we have been particularly praised for our ability to organize events such as this one --something that I think was perfected to a T from the time of Imelda Marcos. Heck even some of the events were held in structures that Imelda Marcos had caused to be built!

For sure not everything happened according to plan, and some events being hoped for didn’t materialize. For one, I found out that our Samareño kababayans were hoping that as a sign of goodwill, the US President would have the Balanggiga Bells offloaded on Air Force One and returned to their rightful place; that didn’t happen. Come to think of it there doesn’t seem to have been much that POTUS brought as “pasalubong” on this trip - no mega deals or soft loans or what have you were signed.

In contrast the Chinese are not yet done. After the Asean summit here comes their Premier with a basketful of commercial and trade deals. Not without a price for sure but what’s new?

I like the idea that the VIPs flew in and out of Clark. That was a stroke of genius. It spared travelers flying in and out of Manila from the hassle of flight delays and cancellations because of security concerns for the VIPs. Of course it meant taking two lanes from EDSA and dedicating them for Asean use - but at least the public was long forewarned about that.

We deserve kudos for getting Asean to issue its stand on migrant workers. This is one issue that is at the core of our national interest, thus the importance to us - as well as to the region.

While nothing formal was put on paper regarding the West Philippine/South China Sea issues, word that a binding code of conduct will be issued soon and supported by all the party disputants is something to cheerfully anticipate.

There was near total silence on human rights, especially from POTUS who was highly criticized for it back home. Canada dared raise the issue and got a tongue lashing in return, which just demonstrated how sensitive this issue has become to the Philippines. For the first time since 1986 we are not in the lead on the discussion of human rights in our region.

I will leave the discussion of the bigger issues that were or were not discussed to the political and economic analysts as I focus on one “small” area which I think needs greater attention.

This is the issue of the general public’s grasp of what it means for our country to be part of a greater, regional association of nations. I feel that for most Filipinos - maybe for 99% with the 1% exception those working in the DFA! - we have a very shallow grasp of Asean and what it means to us as individuals. “Nakakain ba yan?” Or “Yayaman ba ako dyan?” are reactions I can imagine getting from the ordinary man in the street if I were to stop him and ask him what he knew about Asean and whether he cared about it.

I think the future of Asean as an organization rests on the ability of the Member Governments to make their people understand what is it and what it means to a citizen of an Asean member country. It would also help if there were evident benefits to being part of an Asean country; as a traveler, one example I can think of is an Asean lane in such areas as airport immigration counters.

I do not foresee an Asean Euro or a pan-Asean Passport— but these would even be more radical steps forward.

But political issues aside this to me is the biggest one on which I could not give a thumbs up to the Asean - it still hasn’t been able to inculcate an Asean consciousness among its 600 million plus citizenry. Until it does that then what will Asean mean to an ordinary citizen except a reason for ordinary people to take extended vacations?
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