What do we expect from the ASEAN Summit?
BABE’S EYE VIEW - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - April 30, 2017 - 12:00am

One thing for sure: The Philippines was in the world spotlight for hosting the 30th ASEAN Summit – no doubt a milestone event as this year also coincides with the 50th founding anniversary of the regional bloc. Adopting the theme “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World,” leaders of the 10-nation subgroup gathered to tackle issues centering on six themes or priorities that include inclusive and investment-led growth, regional peace and stability as well as maritime security and cooperation.

President Rodrigo Duterte was at his best during the two successive nights of state dinners he hosted at Malacañang for the Sultan of Brunei and the Indonesian president. At the dinner for Sultan Bolkiah, the president was about to begin his speech when the lights went out for about 10 seconds. Manny Pangilinan, chairman of Meralco who was one of the guests, heaved a sigh of relief when the lights went back on – but he immediately texted his Meralco staff to find out what happened. Apparently, Meralco had proposed a long time ago during the Aquino administration to put a sub-station inside the Palace grounds to ensure that brownouts would never occur. They wanted to declare it a Meralco “safe zone” just like the NAIA. However, no action was taken by the Aquino government.

Anyway, developments in the South China Sea due to the activities of China is a significant issue considering that several ASEAN member-nations including the Philippines have claims in the disputed maritime territories. Many have been urging President Rodrigo Duterte to raise the issue of maritime territorial disputes, saying that as chairman of the ASEAN, the Philippines will have a strong position in light of the country’s legal victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague that rejected China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea. Indonesian president Joko Widodo, in a statement, said that the maritime disputes should be immediately solved, with a mutual agreement regarding the sea row to be forged by ASEAN member-nations before they discuss the issue with China.

Early on, President Duterte already said that while the code of conduct could be discussed, the arbitral ruling against China will not be taken up in the agenda – maintaining his earlier pronouncements that the ASEAN is not the right time or venue to discuss the issue.

Incoming Foreign Affairs Secretary Senator Alan Peter Cayetano summed it all up during the second Dutertenomics Forum: “The policy of the Duterte administration is to be friends to all, and enemies to none,” Alan said, adding that all countries that want to be friends with the Philippines are welcome. Certain media’s packaging of the South China Sea dispute as only between the Philippines and China is not also accurate because other nations such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia as well as Taiwan have claims in the area, he said, pointing out that as this year’s ASEAN host, it won’t do to fight all of our neighbors because no one is going to come.

If you talk to experts on the law of the seas, they are not approaching the issue in terms of “How do you solve the dispute there?” but rather, are approaching it in terms of “How do you manage the dispute there?,” the senator also said, explaining that the latter is precisely what President Duterte is trying to do.

“He’s trying to sell a region that would be free from terrorism and transnational crimes; he is trying to put stability in the region through the ASEAN. Through that  – hopefully – ASEAN would be able to have a framework on how to deal with each other,” Cayetano stressed.

People close to the president aver that he has a different approach to diplomacy where a warm, personal touch seems to matter more than stiff protocol. This was really plain to see when he invited Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to his private residence in Davao City. The president is also hosting Indonesian president Joko Widodo at his home in Davao City (where the Mindanao-Indonesia roll-on, roll-off route covering Davao City, General Santos and Bitung in Indonesia will be launched).

I can tell you, seeing President Rody at close range these past few days – he can be very charismatic, and his candor seems to work well – opening up his home as if to say that he may be the president of the Philippines, yet he remains a simple and unpretentious man. This seems to be the new style in diplomacy as seen with US president Donald Trump where an invitation to his estate in Mar-a-Lago, Florida is considered a singular honor. By the way, the White House is placing a call to President Duterte this weekend wherein US president Donald Trump will presumably congratulate President Rody for the successful ASEAN heads of state meeting. President Trump is also expected to confirm his attendance to the November meeting.

We Filipinos can be proud of the fact that the Philippines is one of the five founding members of the ASEAN which is set to become the fourth largest market by 2030. Many are optimistic that the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 will herald economic prosperity.

A study conducted by London-based business consultancy firm, IHS, projects that in the next five to 15 years, four ASEAN nations – namely the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand – are poised to become members of the “trillionaire club” of nations whose GDP exceeds $1 trillion. According to the chief economist of IHS, the Philippine economy could grow to $700 billion by 2025 and $1 trillion by 2030 – turning the country into a leading emerging market in Asia.

* * *

Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

ASEAN SUMMIT
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