Communities clueless on ASEAN economic integration, says educator

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/05 January) – Communities need to be enlightened on the impact of the impending participation of the Philippines in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community on people’s livelihood, an educator said over the weekend.

Dr. Lourdes dela Torre, dean of the Don Carlos Polytechnic College in Bukidnon, noted that in schools, for example, discussions on AEC have been limited to administrators and some other key officials.

Dela Torre, chair for community education of Piniyalan 2013-2016 Reporting Governance Project said AEC would affect not only trading in goods, which was the focus of discussions, but also the service sector.

Speaking over Piniyalan’s radio program last Saturday, dela Torre cited the need to widen and deepen public understanding on the AEC.

“The Philippine government is obviously cramming its preparations for ASEAN 2015, measures which other countries in the regional grouping have long taken. There is more need to guide the public,” she added.

Junar Merla, senior trade and industry specialist at the Department of Trade and Industry-Bukidnon said they have been holding public forums on AEC.

But dela Torre said that aside from DTI, government agencies like the Department of Education, Commission on High Education, Technical Skills Development Administration and Department of Labor and Employment should do the explaining to communities.

She said it is the duty of government to make the public understand and help them prepare for the impact of economic integration at the community level.

She said this is aside from talking to experts in the industries like what the government is doing with universities.

“They will be directly affected by this change but lack of public understanding seems to create an impression they are not affected,” she said, adding there should be roundtable discussions.

Dela Torre, however, admitted there is no turning back for the Philippines as it had signed the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement in 1997, which is supposed to take effect in 2020 yet, but fast-tracked to December 2015.

In a privilege speech on Oct. 14 last year, Senator Loren Legarda cited a survey done by the Asian Development Bank in 2013 that 55% of businesses in ASEAN are not aware of AEC.

“The conclusion suggests that ‘there is a general lack of awareness of ASEAN Economic Community 2015’,” Legarda said.

“More alarming is the result of a survey done by ASEAN and the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund which says that 76% of the people in ASEAN Member States lacks a basic understanding about ASEAN.  There is huge familiarity in the ASEAN name but the people’s knowledge of ASEAN stops there,” she added.  (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)