Asean is not all handshakes and photo ops

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

LIBERAL Party congressman Teddy B. Baguilat embodied all that is wrong about the political opposition when he mocked our hosting of the Asean summit by alleging that it was a waste of time and resources. He tweeted that we spent billions of pesos in hosting it but we did not get anything in return except “handshakes, obligated smiles and safe rhetoric.” The gentleman from Ifugao further tweeted that our country merely “hosted a giant party and photo ops.”

It is mind-boggling that a member of Congress could be totally clueless about the nature of regional meetings like the Asean summit.

Teddy Baguilat should know that hosting regional summits like this is rotated among member countries, and that such is a matter of duty and obligation. It is not supposed to be seen as an opportunity for the country to exact gains. And it is utterly scandalous that we measure success in terms of maximizing our gains in exchange for every peso we spent. That will turn us into a country of mercenaries.

But even for the sake of pleasing Baguilat, it is not as if there were no concrete gains made for the country. Kent Tangcalagan, a member of the Erasmus Mundus Association and an alumnus of the De La Salle University, in a Facebook post, posted a list which he diligently extracted from different sources of the specific monetized benefits which the country received after spending P15.5 billion in hosting the summit.


We obtained P1.15 billion in grants from China to rebuild Marawi. China also lent us P355 billion for infrastructure projects. China and the Philippines signed 14 agreements on the above endeavors, plus other projects in the areas of youth development, climate change, defense and intellectual property.

Japan provided P6.7 billion worth of assistance to strengthen our country’s maritime surveillance capability to enable us to combat radicalism and violent extremism more effectively.

Canada pledged over P715 million of investment over a period of five years that will improve access to reproductive health.

Baguilat should also be informed that regional summits, including the earlier APEC that was earlier hosted by Vietnam, provide venues for the signing of non-monetary deals, but would have substantial impacts that can translate into concrete improvements in our governance and economy. Tangcalagan enumerates some of these, including the signing between Asean and China of the Declaration for a Decade of Coastal and Marine Environmental Protection in the South China Sea, of which the Philippines is an important stakeholder. There was also an agreement to begin formal multi-party negotiations for the finalization of a Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

The Philippines also benefited from the signing of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that reduced barriers to trade between Hong Kong and the Philippines. An FTA proposal was raised between the Philippines and the US; and with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which is a trade bloc comprising the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyztan.

Three memoranda of agreement (MOA) were signed between the Philippines and New Zealand for cooperation in the areas of education, joint airline marketing, geothermal energy experience sharing and improvement of weather intelligence. Nine MOAs were signed with the Russian Federation with regard to energy cooperation, fighting terrorism, railway infrastructure exploration, transport education and interdepartmental governance partnerships.

Within Asean partners, some significant agreements were also forged or adopted. Listed by Tangcalagan are the Focused and Strategic (FAST) Action Agenda on Investment which aligns with the goals and pillars of the Asean Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA); the Asean Inclusive Business Framework (AIBF); the Asean Seamless Trade Facilitation Agreement Indicators (ASTFI) by the Asean Economic Ministers (AEM); and the ASEAN Program on Electronic Commerce (AWPEC) the Asean Inclusive Business Framework (AIBF) for 2017-2025, both approved in an earlier meeting in September 2017. Also significant was the Asean Declaration on Innovation.

Baguilat and his colleagues in the political opposition frame themselves as advocates of human rights. They must then be informed of the several agreements that were forged that had significant bearing on human and gender rights. The Asean Leaders adopted the Action Agenda on Mainstreaming Women’s Economic Empowerment in Asean. The Asean Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers was also signed. A joint US-Philippine statement ensuring the mainstreaming of the human rights agenda in the national programs of both countries was issued. It should also be mentioned that despite the prevailing doctrine of non-interference among Asean member-states, a significant step was made when Myanmar was able to make a positive commitment in ensuring the rights of the Rohingya Muslims.

The only sore point which we can grant Teddy Baguilat in the otherwise largely positive landscape of agreements is the one that pertained to the FTA bilateral proposal between the Philippines and the European Union (EU), which was being held up by the latter’s insistence on its definition of “human rights” and “rule of law.” This is a significant issue since a failure to reach a consensus can jeopardize such FTA.

The President has already said that he will no longer accept grants and aid from EU. This is saddening. It is also a bit ironic for Mr. Tangcalagan, for it will have some implications on the future of Erasmus Mundus, which is an EU educational grant for Filipinos to pursue advanced degrees in EU-based universities, and for which he is a beneficiary.

Hence, far from what Teddy Baguilat has painted it to be, and aside from this matter with the EU, the Asean Summit was far from being a wasteful, giant party of handshakes and photo ops.

More importantly, hosting the summit also enhanced the place of our President as a respected leader in the eyes of Asean and its partners.

And this is what is probably irritating to Teddy Baguilat and the political opposition.

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