Gate Closed. Entrance to the venue of the ASEAN 2017 at the SMX Convention Center in Davao City in southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo - Malou Cablinda)
DAVAO CITY - The Philippines formally assumed Sunday the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN, which also coincided with the 50th founding anniversary of the regional organization.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who arrived in a pair of grey trousers and sleeves of his Barong Tagalog folded just above the wrists, and wearing suspenders, officially launched the Philippines’ hosting of the ASEAN at the SMX Convention Center here.
Security was tight at the venue and many press members were not allowed inside, but managed to cover the event by watching it live of Facebook, however, the slow Internet connection interrupted many times the broadcast of the summit.
Duterte read a prepared speech before thousands of people who attended the event. He called for a strong unity among ASEAN members.
He said Asean must be strengthened to attain peace, stability and “inclusive and innovation-led growth,” and become a “model of regionalism.” But Asean must rid itself of dependence and ignorance, he said.
“For an Asean citizen, the Asean community must provide opportunities for a truly better life. This is a life that has broken the bonds of dependence and ignorance. This is a life that has given opportunities for self-improvement. This is a life that is provided by a society transformed and reformed,” Duterte said.
“We express our shared determination to ensure stability and security from external interference in any form of negotiation in order to preserve our national identity,” he added.
Along with Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, the Philippines is a founding member of Asean, which was formed in 1967 at the height of the Cold War. Asean formed a free-trade area in 1992 and declared the establishment of the Asean Economic Community at the end of 2015.
“Fifty years, hence, we see ourselves much changed for the better. Lives have been improved. The march towards sustainable development and inclusive growth continues to take place. And we have established amongst ourselves good neighborliness that allows for secure and stable relations. But we also see in ourselves the very same burning desire to move forward together based on shared values,” Duterte said in his speech.
“We see the very same resolve to work together for a world that recognizes interconnectedness and respect for the sovereign independence,” he added.
Duterte also said the Philippines would pursue initiatives to strengthen the capacity of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which account for 90 percent of Asean businesses, during the 2017 meetings.
Duterte said Asean should provide opportunities for its people by making the region more open for businesses and improving connectivity.
“We must continue working on a bigger, more open, rules-based market for business and trade to thrive,” he said. “We must forge the increased people-to-people interaction through commerce, travel, education.,
With the theme, “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World,” ASEAN 2017 aims to focus on the further development and enhanced cooperation of the regional community composed of the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Brunei.
“As the Philippines assumes chairmanship, the year-long meetings and activities will highlight several priorities including peace and stability in the region, maritime security, inclusive and innovation-led growth, and a more resilient, people-centered ASEAN,” according to the Presidential Communications Operations Office headed by Secretary Martin Andanar.
The local farmers' group called Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or KMP said the launch of the ASEAN 2017 under the chairmanship of the Philippines is more than just “a showcase of the country's world-class tourism and supreme hospitality, but 'a stamp of commitment' of the Duterte administration's upholding of anti-people neoliberal economic policies promoted by the ASEAN and foreign economic powers.”
Antonio Flores, KMP Secretary-General, said this year-long ASEAN hosting will result to years and maybe decades more of bankrupt, perverted economic policies.
“While Filipinos are demanding drastic changes in economic and foreign policies, including the realization of land reform and national industrialization under the framework of the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms that are being discussed by the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in the peace talks, Malacanang is taking advantage of the ASEAN 2017 to further pimp the country to foreign investors and economic powers,” Flores said.
He said the country’s membership to the ASEAN for the past decades failed to foster real economic development that caters to the interests of the people. “ASEAN 2017 will only market the local economy, our human and natural resources to foreign investors targeting the sectors of business process outsourcing, electronics, agriculture, renewable energy, infrastructure, and shipbuilding.”
“The liberalization of agriculture, trade and investment and economic policies imposed by neoliberal globalization has led to the consistent decline of agriculture and local manufacturing and the bloating of foreign-owned and controlled service sector. ASEAN and its economic interests, agenda and dictates are proven to be major hindrances to real economic development not only in the Philippines but in the entire region,” Flores further said.
His group also criticized Duterte's so-called economic managers for their continued and unabashed criticism of pro-people economic policies. “Their approach is still for greater neoliberal trade and investment liberalization trend through the Association of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the ASEAN economic integration, and free trade agreements including Regional Cooperation Economic Partnership and the European Union-Philippines Free Trade Agreement,” Flores added. (With a report from Malou Cablinda)