Your Royal Highnesses,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Philippine delegation, I join all the previous speakers in extending sincere appreciation to the Government and people of Singapore for the gracious hospitality and excellent arrangements for this Meeting. I likewise thank H.E. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for sharing with us his profound insights,
I congratulate our Chairman H.E. Prof. S. Jayakumar, for having effectively steered ASEAN in the past twelve months, with excellent support from the ASEAN Secretariat headed by Secretary-General, H.E. Rodolfo Severino, Jr.
I am also very Pleased to welcome H.E. Hor Namhong and the entire Cambodian delegations who are attending this meeting as representatives of ASEAN’s newest member, for the first time.
We meet on the eve of a new millennium, and the occasion makes it so fashionable to do stock-takes and to forge resolutions. The “millennium bug” is biting, and we can’t help asking ourselves, just as pundits the world over have asked, obviously with the developments of recent years in their minds, it ASEAN is prepared for the future.
This question presses itself upon us particularly since we are meeting in Singapore. a country so successful and whose gleaming skyscrapers, efficient infrastructure, the world’s densest Internet use, and more, exude the energy of a people so well attuned to the future. We ask if the frontier spirit of this country “the most competitive” there is, according to the World Economic Forum –can or does rub off on our sub-region.
The forces we need to contend with are manifold. On the one hand, there is globalization, which pulls many facets of our lives towards one common, homogeneous test of correctness and acceptability. It draws us to ways of thinking and acting that conform to standards of universal application.
On the other hand, there is the imperative for localization, as many facets of life are best end more efficiently handled at a level as close to the grassroots as possible. Decentralization, devolution of authority local autonomy and people empowerment are buzzwords we hear often enough.
Of course, the fact of life is that we all have to live with these opposing tendencies. Our challenge is not only to cope with both, but also to take advantage of each tendency to shape our future as a sub-region.
To do that, the first and foremost condition is for us to maintain cohesion. We have been successful in the last thirty-two years precisely because of the earnest pursuit of our founders’ vision of one united Southeast Asia. We have achieved that; we are a unified whole.
The challenge now is for us to transform this collectivity into a community. We need to foster deeper and broader convergence of our respective national interests, and really think, speak and act as an organic whole. For unless we do so, we will deny to ASEAN the relevance it can and should have on the world stage.
But ASEAN can be truly relevant only if in the end it is relevant to the ordinary life of the ordinary people of Southeast Asia. We therefore need to make ASEAN an effective instrument for bringing the fruits of peace and prosperity to each one of our respective citizens.
We in the Philippine Delegation believe that there are three converging and mutually reinforcing pathways which we in ASEAN must tread together at once.
The first of these is the path of fast economic growth.
Economic development is crucial to building our community, especially so if we look back to the post two years when we were engaged in fierce combat with adverse economic and financial forces. We now recognize that not only our peoples but also our credibility suffered much during that difficult period .
Thankfully, we did right in quickly moving to strengthen solidarity and cooperation. We affirmed our commitment to AFTA by accelerating its implementation to 2002. We improved the region’s investment climate by providing new incentives to investors. We strengthened the ASEAN Industrial Cooperation scheme. We set up the ASEAN economic monitoring mechanism.
Now, signs of recovery are everywhere. Exports are growing strongly. Investments are coming backs. Growth forecasts are being revised upwards.
But the good news will not stay so if we let complacency to overtake us. We have to press on and finish what we have agreed to do. This is the rationale behind our proposal to convene a special joint ministerial meeting during the Third Informal Summit in Manila. Our foreign, economic and finance ministers need to synergize and consolidate the various sectoral efforts to restore fast growth and confidence in the region. Governance, international financial reform, the new trade round, the private sector role, and social safety nets are but some of the issues we need to address together.
The second path concerns the development of the ASEAN civil society in line with universal and fundamental human principles as well as with our particular and unique cultural traditions.
We dream of a community of caring societies. The provision of the basic needs of food and shelter is not enough to realize this dream. We need to increase our peoples’ access to all the requisites of personal dignity, family security and social solidarity.
Our diversity and collective effort should help us evolve the balance between rights and duties, between individual freedom and social responsibility, and between personal initiative and civic discipline that best suits the community of Southeast Asian people we are trying to build.
The ASEAN Channel, the intensifying functional cooperation and, above all, greater openness and closer consultation among us, point to the correct direction.
The last but not least path is that of strengthening the foundation and building the superstructure of peace and security in ASEAN and the wider region of East Asia.
Within and outside our sub-region, sources of fear and unease fester. While it is true that much of these owe to the unfilled void created by the recent collapse of the old global security architecture, it is just as true that there had been little forward movement towards achieving closure to the issues of the more distant past. For one, painful memories of World Warr II still haunt many mind. And of course, the latter-day scourges of transnational crime, terrorism, internal political strife, and the heightened race for more lethal military power add further strain.
In my estimation, our past efforts in this area have all been salutary. The ARF, the SEANWFZ, the web of bilateral agreements covering areas from defense cooperation to joint border patrol, as well as the multilateral confidence-building measures, have had profound positive impact.
But we need to carry all these farther. And the way forward points to the establishment of mechanisms for preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution. It is in this light that we see regional codes of conduct, such as one on the South China Sea, and the early completion of the Rules of Procedure of the High Council as eminently desirable.
There is no doubt in my mind that you, too, have taken note of the asymmetry in both pace and direction between ASEAN economic collaboration, on the one hand, and regional security and political cooperation, on the other.
We have target dates and binding commitments for tariff reductions. We have timetables for functional cooperation programs. We have time-bound studies on, say, the IT standards for, the region. We are now even drafting the charter for an association of water resource agencies in ASEAN.
But when do we move from CBMs to preventive diplomacy and to conflict resolution, if at all? What Security agreements binding to us all are in the offing?
We are all agreed about the need for structural reforms in the financial and other economic sectors, however painful these may be. But when will we agree that accidents in the high seas signal to us that some very important mechanisms and structures not built on reefs or shoals or rocks are needed in our region?
My friends, ASEAN has been successful through the years because we invested our work with pragmatism, dynamism and foresight. These virtues enabled us to consider and adopt now and creative ways of seeing and doing things. You will agree with me that nothing less is called for if we are to remain successful in the 21st century and the next millennium.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.