I was fortunate to join President Rodrigo Roa Duterte who participated in the 36th ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Summit, together with the other heads of states of ASEAN countries.
The 36th ASEAN Summit, done via video conferencing, was held on 26 June with the theme, “Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN,” which sought to review current initiatives and explore new avenues for enhanced cooperation — all meant to strengthen regional capacity to address challenges posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
We were with the President when he called for a cohesive ASEAN response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The President likewise underscored the need for fundamental and systematic changes in the ASEAN to effectively mitigate the pandemic’s adverse consequences and thereby facilitate the region’s comprehensive recovery.
Like our President, other heads of state also discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and called for greater economic integration among ASEAN countries, which they believe will help the region recover faster from the pandemic.
President Duterte said the COVID-19 pandemic caused disruptions worldwide that have far-reaching consequences. Thus, regional connectivity and greater cooperation are needed said the President, especially with regard to sustainable supply chains, human resource development and the rights of migrant workers.
With the far-reaching consequences that the COVID-19 pandemic brought, President Duterte stressed the need to strengthen ASEAN’s capacity as a region to address future infectious disease outbreaks through research and capacity-building on health technology development. According to the country’s Chief Executive, COVID-19 exposed vulnerabilities in our system, including limitations in our health care and social protection system.
However, PRRD noted that the pandemic also brought forth some positive aspects, most notably, the increased use of e-commerce, e-learning, video conferencing and artificial intelligence. This is why the President called for greater cross-border e-commerce, which he said poses many opportunities for the region’s citizens.
Similarly, other ASEAN leaders also discussed digitalization and how businesses and economic growth can continue and prosper through digital means. At least three heads of state had the same discourse as President Duterte on the possibility of already opening the region for business travels subject to quarantine and other health restrictions.
And while COVID-19 is currently the biggest problem of many nations, President Duterte said there are other threats that can undermine ASEAN’s security and development. PRRD told his fellow leaders that terrorism, transnational crimes and natural calamities are still very real threats that member states should also plan for.
In the Summit’s afternoon session, the President participated in the ASEAN Leaders’ Special Session on Women’s Empowerment in the Digital Age, where he affirmed anew the Philippines’ commitment to women empowerment and gender equality. In the said session, the President noted the country’s progress in the promotion of the rights and status of women, with the Philippines closing 78 percent of its overall gender gap. The Philippines currently ranks first in Asia and 16th globally this year in terms of gender parity in education, health, economy and politics.
In response to existing gender inequalities that the President said were aggravated even more by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chief Executive called for a gender-responsive recovery plan for the region that would underscore the need to ensure more active participation by women, including giving women control and access to digital technology to empower them more.
The 36th ASEAN Summit resulted to the adoption of 12 outcome documents that include the ASEAN Leaders’ Vision Statement on “Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN,” the ASEAN Declaration on Human Resource Development for the Changing World of Work, Work Plan of the ASEAN Plan of Action to Prevent and Counter the Rise of Radicalization and Violent Extremism 2019-2025, and the Terms of Reference of the ASEAN Technical and Vocational Training Council, among others.
The ASEAN leaders also welcomed the establishment of the ASEAN Response Fund and the ASEAN Economic Ministers’ issuance of the Hanoi Plan of Action on Strengthening ASEAN Economic Cooperation and Supply Chain Connectivity in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic. The two issuances were key deliverables agreed upon at the Special ASEAN Summit on COVID-19, which was held on 14 April 2020.