THE Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has just concluded its annual summit hosted by the Philippines this year which just happens to be the 50th anniversary of its founding. From an original five-nation organization in 1967, Asean has more than doubled its membership, including those with observer status, into what it is today – with keen interest from its major trading partners such as the United States, China, Japan and Australia.
Throughout its existence, Asean had embarked on a long journey to realize a one Asean Economic Community (AEC). It established the Asean Free Trade Area (AFTA) in 1992; the Hanoi Plan of Action (HPA) in 1997; the Bali Concord II in 2003; the Vientiane Action Program (VAP) in 2004; and the Asean Economic Blueprint in 2007, among others.
What is the effect of these Asean programs and agreements on the ordinary Filipino, if any?
Following a four-phased approach, the AEC came into full force and effect in 2015. Thus, based on the agreed frameworks, there should be a free flow of goods, services, investments, capital, and skilled labor between and among Asean member-countries.
Some sectors claim that only big businesses, particularly those which can afford overseas expansion, will benefit from the free flow of investments, capital and trade. The ordinary Filipino will feel the pinch of the free flow of services and skilled labor. Why the pinch? Let us look first into the various Asean agreements towards this end.
The Asean Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS) was drawn up in 1995 and amended in 2003. The members agreed to liberalize trade in services in a substantial number of sectors within a reasonable time-frame, which is in fact until 2015.Each member state recognizes the education or experience obtained, requirements met, or licenses or certifications granted in another member state, for the purpose of licensing or certification of service suppliers.
PH schedule of commitments
The Philippines, just like other member states, has its own schedule of commitments. For example, pertinent to foreign natural persons, our country committed that “upon recommendation of the concerned Professional Regulatory Board (PRB), the PRC [Professional Regulations Commission] may approve registration of and authorize issuance of certificate of registration/license and professional identification card with or without examination to a foreigner who is registered under the laws of his state/country and whose certificate of registration issued therein has not been suspended/revoked.”
Foreign professional firms, like accounting firms, are likewise allowed to practice freely in our land. As part of its schedule of commitments, the Philippines pledged to allow market access to “single practitioners and partnerships for public accountancy practice [which]shall be registered Certified Public Accountants in the Philippines.”
The permission for foreigners to practice a profession here is not limited to accountants. Similarly, “foreign engineers may be admitted to take the board exam/be given certificate of registration/be entitled to rights and privileges if his country specifically permits Filipino engineers to practice within its territorial limits on same basis as subjects/citizens of such country.”
Unimpeded employment of foreign professionals and 100 percent foreign equity participation in consultancy services related to the installation of computer hardware and software implementation services is likewise promised by the Philippines. Will this mean the death of local Filipino information technology companies?
In fact, even menial services, like repair services of electrical household appliances and window-cleaning services can be awarded to foreign service providers. What will happen to the neighborhood do-it-all Filipino repairman?
Romulo’s I am a Filipino
We are now at the midstream of progress – within the Asean locally and with the global community. There are fears that the Filipino, historically, culturally, and economically will be lost to the surging tides of foreign domination. Who could resist buying imported goods at a lower price than the locally produced ones? Will these foreign goods and services alter our mindset and infect us even with foreign history and culture?
Wail not for we are Filipinos.
I re-read Gen. Carlos P. Romulo’s most famous literary work—I am a Filipino—to rekindle in me our national identity in the middle of these Asean activities. The inspiring words of General Romulo is still alive and apt for these modern times.
In case the readers have forgotten, it starts with this:
“I am a Filipino–inheritor of a glorious past, hostage to the uncertain future. As such I must prove equal to a two-fold task–the task of meeting my responsibility to the past, and the task of performing my obligation to the future.”
Where are we at this midstream of progress? Romulo answered,
“At the vanguard of progress in this part of the world I stand–a forlorn figure in the eyes of some, but not one defeated and lost. For, through the thick, interlacing branches of habit and custom above me, I have seen the light of the sun, and I know that it is good. I have seen the light of justice and equality and freedom, my heart has been lifted by the vision of democracy, and I shall not rest until my land and my people shall have been blessed by these, beyond the power of any man or nation to subvert or destroy.”
Finally, an ending that should be enshrined in the hearts of all Filipinos –
“I am a Filipino born to freedom, and I shall not rest until freedom shall have been added unto my inheritance—for myself and my children and my children’s children—forever.”