The honor and privilege of hosting the annual summit of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a great one. It rotates by design among the 10 members of the regional association every year.
The fact that the honor falls this year on the Philippines is most significant for our country and our people. The fact that this year also marks the 50th anniversary of ASEAN makes this responsibility and honor all the more significant and ennobling.
All of Southeast Asia should aspire to make this a red-letter year for our asssociation and our region.
In the course of this golden anniversary year, the region and our people of over 600 million will have the satisfaction and pride of knowing that their regional association has truly become one of its greatest achievements.
Today, ASEAN has the distinction of being one of the most long-lasting and perhaps most cohesive regional association in the world. When ASEAN was born, several parts of Southeast Asia were in the throes of a devastating war, as a result of the Cold War. Today, the region can look back with pride at a history of overcoming one of the most bloody, costly, and harrowing conflicts in history. The region can take solace in an epic process of rebuilding societies that were shattered and decimated for a time by conflict.
Today, we in ASEAN can look to a future of being lifted together by the signs of economic development, the evidence of one of the highest economic growth rate, and by the happy fruits of regional community.
For all that, ASEAN must be cognizant that it is party to an increasingly intense competition over territorial and navigation rights in the South China Sea.
We should also have the wit to see that this anniversary year we should strive to address our long-standing lament that too often, the consensus-driven approach of ASEAN to decision-making is too slow for decision making, and sometimes is an excuse for doing nothing.
Being a country that has lately undergone pervasive change, it is to be expected that with President Rodrigo Duterte in the lead, we as host should sound the hope of partnership for change and engaging the world.
ASEAN can say to the world that our entire region and all our peoples have experienced first-hand the blessings of peace, the hopeful and liberating signs of economic development, and the practical advantages of being a regional bloc.
But we are also witness to the growing rivalries between the powers in our part of the world, and to misunderstandings between ourselves and our neighbors. Diplomatic maturity means that such rivalries and misunderstandings should be actively transcended.
An anniversary is fittingly a time for remembrance and rejoicing. It is also a time for vigilance and reflection on lessons learned.