Headlines Skinning Left, pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1
Headlines ( Leaderboard Top ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1

Amid ASEAN's faults, there are 'glimmers of hope' for region's people

President Rodrigo Duterte and leaders and representatives of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states applaud as they witness the program during the closing ceremony of 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits at the Philippine International Convention Center on November 14, 2017. King Rodriguez/Presidential Photo

MANILA, Philippines — Despite the fundamental faults within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, there are "glimmers of hope" for the bloc of 620 million people, according to a journalist who has extensively covered its politics.

Jakarta-based Australian journalist Erin Cook said comments questioning the viability of the 10-nation bloc in the future amid its failures to confront some pressing issues were misplaced as they were oblivious of ASEAN's achievements over the past years and the potential it held for the future.

READ: Critics on ASEAN: Failed PR stunt, monstrous, glitzy

"For commentators, the 50th anniversary of ASEAN was a time to pearl-clutch over the importance of the bloc and muse on its viability in the future," Cook wrote.

"This is a ruthlessly myopic ideal of what ASEAN should be. We need to make room for the wins it has achieved and the potential it has for the next 50 years," she added.

Manila recently hosted the 31st ASEAN Summit and related meetings which were attended by the leaders of Southeast Asian nations and other global players. The meetings were held amid a backdrop of heightened security concerns over the threat of terrorism and the missile and nuclear program of North Korea as well as the disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Headlines ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1

READ: Government hit over huge budget for ASEAN events

Cook said that one policy front where the bloc was able to achieve progress was in the protection of the migrant workers in the region, an issue that goes to the daily experience of Southeast Asian nationals.

Although not explicitly legally binding to ASEAN member-states, the consensus would lay out next year a path to formalize a plan of action, a reflection of a domestic push in individual countries to resolve abuses and mistreatment of nationals overseas.

It also takes into account a wide range of labor issues championed by activists and unions, including safeguards against gender and racial discrimination and protections from violence and sexual harassment, she said.

According to Cook, the "ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers" is the culmination of the debate that has split Indonesia and the Philippines.

She said that Indonesia wanted a legally binding agreement while the Philippines was opting for a morally binding pact, reasonable arguments according to the journalist.

"Both arguments seemed reasonable: 'why bother passing it if violators are not legally accountable' versus 'why bother trying to pass it only for it to be nixed by destination states Singapore and Malaysia,'" she wrote.

READ: World leaders in Manila: Key events at ASEAN summit

The siege of Marawi was also a big test for the regional grouping after years of statements and joint communiques from the East Asia Summit and ASEAN Defense Ministers Meetings.

"The end of the longest ever urban siege in a Philippines city last month has rightfully been celebrated as a win for regional counter-terrorism efforts," Cook said.

The statements stressed the importance of a response to radicalism in the region, especially from the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. The conflict pushed the three nations to implement joint naval patrols in the Sulu Sea.

This maritime agreement is likely to be expanded to include Brunei and Singapore, she said.

READ: US pledges support vs terrorism, affirms Mutual Defense Treaty

Despite these successes, the region failed to tackle other crucial security issues such as the deepening Rohingya crisis in Myanmar's Rakhine State where hundreds of thousands of residents had fled and reportedly killed.

"Despite the best efforts of Malaysia and Indonesia, a draft of the final communique leaked to the media referred only to ‘affected communities’ in Myanmar, in line with a Burmese policy of refusal to acknowledge the Rohingya people," Cook said.

READ: Locsin: Abstaining from vote on draft UN resolution on Rohingya crisis 'the right thing'

This was the defining contemporary fault of the bloc, Cook said: ASEAN can respond to conflict, but it is just choosy about the conflict it prioritizes.

"Which raises the question that if ASEAN was initially established all those years ago in order to prevent further conflict between Southeast Asian states, what happens to its mandate once regional peace has been established and maintained?" she asked.

READ: ASEAN, China agree to start talks on South China Sea code

Headlines ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1
  • Follow Us:
Healines Skinning Right, pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1