Keynote Address of
H.E. JOSEPH EJERCITO ESTRADA
President of the Republic of the Philippines
at the Opening Ceremonies of the 31st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting
24 July 1998, Manila


Your Royal Highnesses,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests and Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introductory Remarks

On behalf of the Philippine government and the Filipino people, I am very pleased to welcome to Manila Your Royal Highnesses and Your Excellencies, the Honorable Foreign Ministers of the Member Countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations and of the ASEAN Observer Countries, Cambodia and Papua New Guinea, and the Secretary-General of ASEAN, and your respective delegtions, on the occasion of the 31st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting.

It pleases me greatly that this my first international engagement as President is taking place with my country’s closest friends and neighbors in the region. For us, this is most appropriate; for we give the highest primacy we attach to ASEAN in our foreign relations. It is also most propitious, as deepening friendship and good relations with our neighbors can only augur well for my people as we begin our second century as one nation.

Celebrating Freedom

As you are well aware, the Philippines very recently experienced two epochal events. On June 12, we marked the centennial of the proclamation of our independence from 333 years of Spanish rule. As is now widely acknowledged, the Philippine Revolution, which led to that historic proclamation, sparked a century of nationalistic struggle and decolonization in Asia. And on June 30, we inaugurated a new national leadership through another peaceful transfer of power.

On both occasions, we Filipinos celebrated freedom. On the first occasion, we celebrated the universal equality of nations and peoples, and the fact that all nations have a right to self-determination, that no one country has the right to subjugate another. On the other, we celebrated human freedom – the freedom to be counted and express ourselves, to assemble, to form parties and choose our own leaders, to be the true masters of our destiny.

Thus, despite the many challenges facing my country, my presidency could not have begun at a more auspicious time. Those two momentous events were occasions for the renewal and rejuvenation of our people, since liberty and democracy are the true sources of our strength.

It is very reassuring too that our neighbors and international partners are with us to lend their support and cooperation to my administration and to my people.

The Philippines and the Global Village

Good relations and friendship with other countries are crucial to the survival and development of the Philippines. This is all the more true in today’s world of economic interdependence and at a time when the configuration of global and regional security is assuming new shapes and forms. Our pursuit of peace, stability and prosperity of home obliges us to engage more fully with the rest of the world.

Gone are the days when the security of a nation rested almost solely on its capability to repel foreign military aggression and to suppress internal insurgencies. Now, we contend with the menace of organized transnational crime, the threats to the national moral fabric posed by the use of and trafficking in drugs, the challenges wrought by agricultural failures and environmental degradation, the divisions fomented by ethnic and religious extremism and by social injustice, and the alienating ravages of widespread poverty.

Gone too are the days when a developing nation’s economic well-being rested almost exclusively on its natural resource endowments or on the magnanimity of donor friends. Today, sustainable growth must be anchored on a nation’s competitiveness in the world and propelled by real advances in productivity. Knowledge and skills, not mere brawn or mindless motion, now define human capital. And a country’s legal and physical infrastructure will either attract or discourage investment capital, ever mobile, ever more global,

The global village is upon us, Nations are so tightly interlinked and so closely interdependent that events in faraway places unleash near-term effects elsewhere. Yet, isolations does not guarantee survival; in fact, it threatens it. And autarky is a closed option.

Today, no one country can for long survive, much less prosper, without weaving a web of effective relationships and embracing the opportunities and overcoming the challenges of the global marketplace.

Our Foreign Policy Thrusts

It is to the credit of my predecessor in office that Philippine foreign policy has for sometime now rested on the three pillars of safeguarding national security, economic diplomacy, and promoting the rights and welfare of our nationals living and working overseas. It is anchored on Southeast Asian solidarity and friendship with all nations. My administration intends to vigorously pursue these same thrusts. Your meetings here will be chaired by your colleague, Secretary Siazon. I have kept him in my Cabinet partly to underscore continuity of our policies and the firmness of our international commitments.

The Philippines will continue to view national security not only in terms of the traditional concerns over territorial integrity and external peace. Our way of life, our fundamental values and our institutions can flourish and find true expression only if we enjoy socio-political stability, cultural cohesiveness, moral consensus, economic solidarity, and ecological balance, at home and with our partners in the world. In other words, our national security and development demand that we actively advance the internationally-shared goals of freedom, openness, peace, prosperity, and justice.

This means, first, that we will strengthen or normalize our bilateral security arrangements, particularly with the United States, our ASEAN partners and other Asian nations, and pursue greater confidence-building and security cooperation with our multilateral security patners, in the ASEAN Regional Forum and in the United Nations.

Second, we will press for cooperation within the international community in addressing the financial and economic crisis gripping Asia, and in finding peaceful solutions to new or long-festering threats to peace, such as in the situations in the South China Sea, Cambodia, the Korean Peninsula, South Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere.

Our efforts, together with our ASEAN Troika partners Indonesia and Thailand and the other Friends of Cambodia, to assist in the restoration of political stability in Cambodia, as well as our commitments to Myanmar and Laos to assist in the development of their human resources and to facilitate their adjustment process in ASEAN, are not purely acts of altruism. Progress in those countries is progress in ASEAN, and therefore beneficial to my country.

Third, we will link up even more closely with other nations in combating international terrorism, drug trafficking, trafficking in women and children, money laundering, and other transnational crime, and in addressing issues of nuclear non- proliferation, transborder pollution, women and children, indigenous peoples, and human rights.

The recent nuclear tests conducted by two South Asian states are particularly worrisome to us. It is not only because these two countries are so close to us geographically. It is also not only because the resources these countries expended on their nuclear programs could have been used instead to directly uplift their peoples lives. Nuclear proliferation is simply wrong, and the utter disregard for world opinion against nuclear weapons is unconscionable.

The entire Filipino nation will join all mankind in celebrating the fiftieth anniversory of the Universal declaration of Human Rights. We are also very gratified that ASEAN places critical importance on the implementation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. This is just proper since two-thirds of the ASEAN popu- lation are women and children. The rights, protection and development of women and children are at the heart of my ten-point program of government, and for that reason, we will endeavor -to provide them their b(3sic needs, inc4uding food, education and employment.

Fourth, we will continue our support for a more open, freer and fairer globol trade and investment regime, and our active participation and commitment to the goals Of AFTA, APEC, ASEM and WTO.

And finally, we will seek further global cooperation in promoting and protecting the rights and welfare of migrant workers, and actively support initiatives on other migration issues.

As Your Royal Highnesses and Your Excellencies will note, our success in achieving these foreign policy thrusts will hinge on the cooperation of our partners. And it is my fervent hope that ASEAN will be with us.

Remembering Three Decades of ASEAN Unity and Growth

During the past three decades of ASEAN partnership, we saw unprecedented economic growth, expanded membership, regional stability, and the beginnings of a common regional identity.

ASEAN continues to be the fourth largest trading entity in the world, having achieved this feat by prevailing over ideological and great power conflicts waged in the region and over disputes between neighboring countries.

At last year’s Summit in Kuala Lumpur, ASEAN not only looked back and celebrated thirty yeors of solidarity and cooperation; it also looked forward to the coming millennium with much confidence and optimism.

Our collective dream – the ASEAN Vision 2020 – captures eloquently our common aspirations for a united and outward-looking Southeast Asia that lives in peace, stability and prosperity, bonded together in a partnership in dynamic development, and in a community of caring societies.

We must now have a plan of action to implement the ASEAN Vision 2020 as our road map to the future.

Our direction is sure. Our resolve is never in doubt. But the way to our destination may not be as smooth as we want it to be.

Restoring Financial and Economic Stability: Our immediate Concern

ASEAN’s resilience has been put under severe strain by the financial crisis sweeping across Asia. Mothballed assembly lines and padlocked factory doors tell of real suffering afflicting our peoples. Millions have already lost their jobs and so many more are going hungry. And you and I know that the pernicious effects of the crisis do not stop, at the economic.

Our individual governments have taken and continue to take measures appropriate to our own circumstances. And while the light at the end of this funnel can only be dimly discerned today, we know that the pain and sacrifices we are enduring to put our economic houses back in order will bear fruit.

The role the Bretton Woods institutions play is very crucial in containing the crisis and restoring the economic health of the countries most severely affected. But it is now clear that the resources of these institutions, particularly the IMF, are frighteningly insufficient. It is our hope that countries which are in a position to do so, especially the United States, will soon make available their share in the recapitalization of the IMF, and lend support for increasing the funds of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

The recovery of Northeast Asian economies, particularly Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, is crucial to ASEAN’s own economic recovery, These more advanced economies have become major markets for our products and important sources of investment capital for our young industrial sectors. The sooner growth resumes in these economies, the sooner can they return to their important role as locomotives of our region’s growth.

Continued understanding and support from the United States, China and Europe are likewise vital to our efforts. China’s steadfast commitment not to devalue its currency is a great help. The United States and Europe, being principal outlets for ASEAN exports, can spur our recovery by providing greater access to their markets, trade financing and other means.

ASEAN countries themselves have also been collaborating on initiatives addressing both the root causes and the effects of the crisis. In particular, we have been working with our partners in both APEC and ASEM, and they have expressed their support for the Manila Framework for Enhanced Asian Regional Cooperation to Promote Financial Stability. We have lobbied with G-7 countries for credit support and greater market access for ASEAN goods. And to help us cushion the impact of the crisis on our most vulnerable sectors, we have been seeking to reverse the declining trend of official development assistance of major donor countries to the ASEAN region.

But as we have gone through this storm together, we have acquired a deeper realization that we need to bind ourselves to one another even more tightly. This shows in our common resolve to keep our target dates for the completion of AFTA. This shows in our desire to accelerate the implementation of the ASEAN Industrial Cooperation Scheme and the establishment of the ASEAN Investment Area. This is evident in our agreement to establish the Regional Economic Monitoring System, through which, in essence, we assume stakes in as well as responsibilities for one another’s economic well-being.

Learning Our Lessons

Despite the present crisis – no, perhaps because of it – ASEAN will move surely towards greater integration. The lessons we are learning from this common experience are clear enough.

First, we need to go back to basics and strengthen the backbone of each of our economies. For us in the Philippines, this means we have to revitalize our agricultural sector, which continues to be the main source of livelihood for the majority of our people. We will direct more energy towards improving productivity in the rural areas. We will channel our resources to irrigation systems, farm-to-market roads, post-harvest facilities and rural credit. We will intensify the protection and preservation of our environment in order to ensure the sustainability and balance of our development efforts. And we will have to give more focus to human resource development, to prepare our people for the knowledge-based industries of the future.

Second, we need to ensure that growth and development benefit all our people. High GDP growth is brittle and fleeting if the benefits are not distributed equitably. The poorest of our masses – they who get hit first and the hardest in any economic downturn – will always be restive, and rightly so, if the fruits of development go mostly to the already well-off.

Third, our countries need solidarity with one another to build our collective strength. After all, the world treats us as one; we get rewarded and we get penalized as one. We need to push AFTA and align our investment rules. Fragmented national markets are no longer competitive. An integrated market is more efficient, and therefore more attractive to global investors. AICO and AIA are steps in the right direction; so too are the bilateral agreements to use local currencies in trading among ourselves.

Fourth, the crisis has forced us to focus attention on the relationship between business and government, on whether government has any business running business, and on the quality of national governance. The issues of corruption and crony capitalism are also now high in national debates, and the ensuing convergence of ideas and resolve towards greater transparency and a more level-playing field can only augur well for our peoples and nations.

Fifth, ASEAN as an association has to participate actively in the shaping of a new architecture of the international financial system, which some have been calling for. The financial crisis has confronted us with the stark truth that the world is dealing with a new phenomenon. It is the phenomenon of massive amounts of capital flowing across national boundaries at lightning speed, bloating economies into fragile bubbles as they rush in and shaking economies to their foundations as they are withdrawn. This is one of the aspects of globalization that carry an element of risk and peril. It is on aspect of globalization that requires the most profound examination and the most delicate handling. I reiterate the call for an international conference on globalization and urge ASEAN to take the intellectual leadership in it. Unless ASEAN does so, others will once again shape our destiny for us.

And sixth, the crisis makes plain to us that political stability is essential to each of our countries’ economic success. And it is crucial too to the security of the region.

Contributing to regional peace and stability also is the consolidation of all of Southeast Asia within ASEAN, as envisioned by our association’s founders. Last year, we welcomed Laos and Myanmar as ASEAN’s newest members. We look forward to welcoming Cambodia soon into the ASEAN family.

Towards a True ASEAN Community

ASEAN integration will redound to the benefit of all. And it will only happen if we move together towards greater total convergence, in our economic life and beyond. It is happening in Europe, it can happen also in our part of the world.

To advance our convergence as a region, we have to go back to the most basic, that is, by allowing the confidence we have been building these past three decades to take its due course. Let us be open to one another and freely and candidly exchange views no matter how controversial the issue. Only by being open can we truly appreciate what unites or divides us. Only by talking freely and candidly can we rise and build and prosper together.

And let us muster the courage to strengthen our existing institutions and build the new ones we need, It is particularly gratifying to me that in the past year, two new ASEAN ministerial forums have been established – the Meeting of ASEAN Ministers on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication and the Meeting of ASEAN Ministers of Interior or Home Affairs on Transnational Crime. These subjects – rural development and poverty alleviation and the fight against crime – are especially close to my heart and receive the highest priority in my administration.

We have already seen what a boon to our common efforts the ASEAN Secretariat has become. We can make it capable of doing more. By reposing our trust in the institutions we build, we make permanent the ties that bind us. The European Union – arguably, the world’s most successful union of erstwhile bitter enemies – did so and triumphed. We too can succeed.

But ASEAN lives in a bigger neighborhood. A neighborhood of giants where the ghosts of historic conflicts lurk and the debris of great wars fought litter the ground.

Peace in East Asia contributes to peace in ASEAN. Stability in East Asia helps stability in ASEAN. Prosperity in East Asia spurs prosperity in ASEAN.

Peace, true and lasting peace, in East Asia is possible only if the lingering animosities are put to rest, as they were in Europe. If the unresolved issues from the Second-World War are settled. If the embers of distrust have died. And if all the wounds have healed.

The way to the just and lasting settlement of the issues of war and peace in East Asia requires open, free and candid dialogue. It is time for Japan, China and Korea to talk and put the past behind them.

Then, maybe, bigger dreams can beckon. One market. One currency. One community.

Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, my friends, ASEAN in the last thirty years has achieved much. We can make it achieve more, for ourselves, for our children, for our children’s children.

We have to move and become a true community. For we cannot change geography. We cannot change the past that has shaped us. We cannot change the natural affinities that bind us. But we can chart our own future. And we can make it a future of strength, of freedom, of peace and of prosperity.

Thank you and Mabuhay!