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The Philippines and the ASEAN

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As I write this, the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Summits are under way in Singapore. This year’s meetings are hosted by Singapore and chaired by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. To borrow the words of the Palace, our country’s participation in the annual summit is an “opportunity for the Philippine government to join in discussions pertaining to the progress of the ASEAN community blueprints and in bringing ASEAN closer to the realization of a people-centered ASEAN community.”

“What is great with our current leadership is that there is demonstrable political will to effect change.

The Philippines, as the negotiator for the ASEAN-China partnership, plays a crucial role in the dialogues. Over the past few days, President Rodrigo Duterte, specifically in the ASEAN-China summit, has said the ASEAN and China continue to affirm the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

President Duterte also promised as co-chair of the negotiations on the Code of Conduct (CoC) over the disputed areas of the WPS, the Philippines would continue to work closely with the ASEAN and China for the early conclusion of an effective and substantive CoC.

I, for one, am always heartened whenever I hear that the member-nations of the ASEAN trying to work with each other for the betterment of all.

The ASEAN as a regional body is a complex study. It functions based on the consensus of all of its members which can be complicated because its members strongly maintain their individuality and independence. On one hand, the consensus approach ensures that all members cooperate when a decision is made despite the uniqueness of each state’s circumstances. On the other hand, it is often difficult to come up with decisive action when everyone has to agree before anything can get done. Moreover, the aforementioned diversity of ASEAN member states – usually something we like to celebrate – is part of the reason why it’s difficult for us to come to an agreement.

This was made very clear to me during my stint as director of the UP College of Law’s Institute of International Legal Studies. One of our Institute’s projects was a book on ASEAN economic integration and its legal challenges. It is difficult to summarize the findings in this column and do the book justice, but in the course of that book’s production I became acutely aware of just how much the Philippines and the other ASEAN member states will have to change in order to sync up with one another. It will be a tedious, tense exercise of hurdling legal and geopolitical obstacles but fortifying our ties and integrating are crucial to our continued development. Anyone with a basic understanding of the current state of the world can see that Asia is where the current growth is — and will remain for the foreseeable future.

What is great with our current leadership is that there is demonstrable political will to effect change, both in our domestic and international relations, as evidenced by President Duterte’s pronouncement that he would push for the conclusion of the negotiations on the CoC.

“The aforementioned diversity of ASEAN member states… is part of the reason why it’s difficult for us to come to an agreement.

We look forward to the Philippines having an even more active role in the ASEAN moving forward.

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