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Opinion

Embracing ASEAN

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The Philippines plays host again to a world event where no less than political leaders from 20 countries and international groups are coming to attend. Fifteen months into office, President Rodrigo Duterte will have this opportunity to show Filipino hospitality even to its worst critics abroad.

As of this writing, all 21 political leaders and heads of governments have already confirmed their participation of international summit meetings taking place in our country next month. This was the headcount made by Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr., head of National Organizing Committee (NOC) for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Leaders’ Summit.

In brief, Paynor is satisfied with the preparations so far done for the holding of the ASEAN Leaders’ Summit, then later with dialogue partners in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and later the East Asia Summit (EAS), all taking place here one after the other from Nov. 13 to 15.

Also attending these gatherings as guests of President Duterte are the respective heads of the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU). Both world bodies have been critical of the human rights issues in the Philippines under the Duterte administration.

The Philippines is this year’s chairman of the ASEAN Leaders’ Summit which coincided with the 50th founding anniversary of the bloc. The Philippines is one of the founding fathers of the ASEAN.

It’s been a long while since Amb. Paynor first appeared as guest in my weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay on Oct.28, 2015 when he headed also the NOC for the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Leaders’ Summit held in November that year in Manila.

More or less, we can perhaps expect the upcoming ASEAN Summit to hew closely with the template for the APEC Summit that was considered a success in terms of its being undisturbed by any nasty event. The same security lockdowns in all venues of the international gatherings are being put again.

At the breakfast forum last Wednesday at Cafe Adriatico in Remedios Circle in Malate, Paynor confirmed there would be a total of 21 political leaders (10 from ASEAN heads of states) and 11 more heads of states and political leaders from ARF Dialog Partners and the EAS. So the number of attendees will be almost the same number with those of the APEC Summit.

As earlier announced by the White House, US President Donald Trump will definitely attend the 40th anniversary of the ASEAN-US but is skipping the EAS. Membership of EAS consists of ten ASEAN member states, (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam), Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the Russian Federation and US.

State Department Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would represent the US instead at the EAS while Trump goes back to the Washington ahead. The Philippines will be the last stop of Trump’s Asian tour, which include trips to China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam. Trump will fly to the Philippines from Vietnam which is hosting this year’s APEC Leaders’ Summit.

Trump will attend the special gala celebration of the 50th anniversary of ASEAN on Nov. 12. President Duterte is slated to hold four-eyes talks with Trump at a “sideline meeting” during the ASEAN Summit on Nov. 13.

Lessons learned from the APEC Summit, Paynor cited, the administration of President Duterte is making sure our country’s hosting of this international event would not be at the inconvenience of many Filipinos, especially in terms of disrupted flights and traffic mobility.

Thus, President Duterte declared no work, no classes at all levels in both private and public from Nov.13-15. Paynor clarified the period of suspension of classes is extended during the arrival and departure of Leaders whose planes will all be coming in and out through the Clark Airport in Angeles City, Pampanga and travel by road to Manila and elsewhere under strict security convoy protocols.

Like any other international events, Paynor noted with deep concern “lone wolf” attack with no motive or instigation as the gravest security threat second to Islamic State (IS) terrorists’ threats. A particular example, he cited, was the gambling addiction-disturbed gunman who single-handedly caused the death of 28 people in the Resort World incident. The casualties and injured were caused by the fire he set at the casino-hotel in Pasay City.

But everything else, Paynor believes the Philippines is ready and well prepared with every contingency plans to meet projected scenarios.

Now at 50 years old of existence, Paynor noted with concern that the awareness and appreciation of Filipinos about the importance ASEAN are wanting.

Paynor specifically alluded to the survey on “the awareness and attitudes” of university students in ten-member states of the ASEAN done by Singapore-based Yusok Ishak Institute. In that survey, Paynor disclosed the Philippines placed 9th and followed by Myanmar among the ten ASEAN states in terms of lack of awareness of the people about their regional bloc.

Funded by the ASEAN Foundation, the survey found out, among other things, most students acknowledged that ASEAN provides numerous benefits and opportunities for them, their country, and the region.

The survey noted much of the enthusiasm for ASEAN is strongest among students from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. On a lesser scale, the students from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand also demonstrated substantial knowledge of the regional bloc.

Definitely, however, ASEAN awareness is higher among the business leaders of the member states.

The survey was based from responses of 4,623 students among 22 universities in the ten ASEAN member states. The sample size for each university is 200 to 220 with roughly equal numbers of males and females respondents. Our students from University of the Philippines and the Mindanao State University represented our country.

Thus, Paynor could only mutter the wish that all of us Filipinos, not only students and businessmen, would embrace ASEAN to be part of our daily living.

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