Asean integration, ready or not!

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tiquia

THE Aquino III has been in its 3rd year in office and, interestingly, we have not made much inroads in foreign policy, save the predictable US-centric bias and the alarm bells mode on China. Our foreign policy should be dictated by the saving grace of the PH economy: OFW, but it seems we are too bipolar in approach. We are pro US and if anyone is against the US, we side with the US. The US foreign policy has shifted and pivoted back to Asia while ours remain in a time warp.

Our sable rattling ways with China is just that, all hot air. Instead of focusing on what we can provide the biggest market in Asia and how we can integrate with the countries contiguous to China, we seem to always be at odds with her and her territories, like Hong Kong and recently, Taiwan. Against the characterization of the Philippines as “being too Western than Asian,” another development is inching its way us fast and that is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) integration by 2015.

Asean was founded on 8 August 1967 when the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines completed negotiations of the 1967 Asean Declaration in Bangkok. Then, the Philippines was leading lights in diplomacy with the likes of Felipe Agoncillo to Carlos P. Romulo, Rafael Salas, Blas Ople, among others. Today, we seem to be back at being just pro-US. We have a Constitution that bans entry of nuclear powered and enabled ships, but we often see port visits of warships and even a submarine. Then, every inch of the PH territory being considered for basing rights is now source of protests. Today, we have well entrenched and outside the radar screen landing and naval facilities in GenSan, Palawan, and even in remote ARMM, but may I digressed.

The following countries later joined Asean: Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea meanwhile are observers. How would an integrated Asean look like? Asean covers a land area of 4.46 million km+, which is 3% of the total land area of Earth, and has a population of approximately 600 million people, which is 8.8% of the world’s population. The sea area of Asean is about three times larger than its land counterpart. In 2011, its combined nominal GDP had grown to more than US$ 2 trillion. If Asean were a single entity, it would rank as the eighth largest economy in the world. Having said that, a lot of eyes are looking into its integration, such as Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The economic potential is great, but the political risks may be huge for others if not properly handled, as in the case of the PH.

Is the PH ready for AEC? Is the 16th Congress ready to champion the AEC? The policies that need to be harmonized from products to service and people have to be identified, studied, filed, and enacted. So could we see any movement in this regard?

The Asean leaders adopted the AEC Blueprint in November 2007, with the vision to “establish by 2015 a highly competitive single market and production base for its ten member economies, that promotes their equitable economic development and facilitates their integration with the global community.” Much work is to be done regionally.

Making our people aware of the integration is critical and crucial because it will have a great impact on their lives and the future of the region. Interestingly, a survey found that while 80 percent of Asean’s population is aware of Asean, 70 percent of them do not understand what the Asean Community is all about.

The people of PH are our greatest assets in terms of employment, as well as trainers in the region. We just have to see the strategies built by our institutions so we reap the bounties this integration hopes to bring.

If Asean achieves what it plans to do come 2015, we might just see the possibility of pushing for an Asean parliament. The idea was sowed first by the Philippine delegation at the 3rd AIPO General Assembly in Jakarta in 1980. Some 26 years after, by the 27th AIPO General Assembly in Cebu City in 2006, consensus moved towards making the Asean Parliament a long-term goal. Would the first speaker of the Asean parliament be a Filipino? Only the process of integration and our commitment to its objectives could lead to it.

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