ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 21 January) — This year hits another significant period for the Southeast Asian region, as it begins its Golden Year as an organized regional body called the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). On our part, it is historic as well since the Philippines chairs the 10-country august body. But beyond just the fifty years since its founding and the never-ending issues on regional safety and security and more, where does the South East Asian citizen find his/her worth in the global scale?
The five original members (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand) can very well look back and see how membership grew, whilst the issues either sprung or developed, got expanded and resolved in the past five decades. Ties were forged, trade agreements inked, assistance to certain members in need extended, and products have been showcased. In some cases, however, intermarriages took place.
I have written about the ASEAN since 2007, from one Chairman to the other, and gained friends from each member-state’s media. I have witnessed cultural differences in South East Asia and observed from a distance how the leaders of each member-state handled ASEAN issues as well as internal matters, plus interrelations with the European Union (EU), Japan, Australia, Canada, Republic of Korea, India, New Zealand, and People’s Republic of China (PRC). ASEAN has evolved, way past its target year last 2015. Certainly, there have been lapses, but it does not call to be interpreted as failures.
Being an ASEAN citizen so to speak, I expected the evolution of the ASEAN passport that was discussed since five years ago. I thought by 2015, there would already be issuances. I hoped the human rights issues brought before the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights would be resolved by now. Summit after summit, I saw how the agricultural products by member-countries were displayed and presented. I was awed at the indigenous songs and dances staged with the kaleidoscope of colors by each member-state. But there never came like an ASEAN-initiated competitive event.
Certainly, the Summits were not just long talks and all-day discussions on connectivity and coordination, trade and investments, politics and security, or on whatever affects the socio-cultural community that ASEAN is — to name a few.
With Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at the helm of a very diplomatic regional organization, I would view this golden year as a crucial year for ASEAN. While he will continue to face, for one, the demands of his host nation and his long queue of detractors, he will be able to address some regional issues fairly well.
The ASEAN has long been led by diplomacy-cultured state leaders, and President Duterte will be bringing on a formidable leadership like no other. He will don the suit as all heads of state would, roll his sleeves as all representatives in the regional workforce could, and wear the shirt as cool as yuppies and hashtag posters. He can even sit with farmers from the rice fields of the Philippines to the Mekong river basins. Literally, that is. And this is a new leadership style the ASEAN has on its golden year.
One economic strategy that was implemented by ASEAN is the Single Window, where traders could somehow do business within the South East Asian region through online trading of goods and services. Indonesia kicked it off, and there is just that hope it would soon pull other member-states joining the circle.
The narco-war may be most blatant in this country but it does not follow that all others in South East Asia are free from the drug trade. The battle vs. the worsening spread of drugs may be cushioned as I see other ASEAN state leaders contemplating on its direction, such as Indonesia.
Fifty years make up a long way for ASEAN to go. And from this point onwards, it can start envisioning its centennial. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Frencie L. Carreon is a journalist based in Zamboanga City)