The Philippines as ASEAN Chair: Six thematic priorities

The Philippines assumed chairmanship of the Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN) for 2017, which also coincides with its 50th year anniversary. The ASEAN 2017 theme is “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World”. This milestone event is an occasion for ASEAN to reflect on its success and achievements during the last 50 years and to prepare itself for the new challenges ahead in the region.

One of the challenges ahead is that ASEAN can be an intimidating subject for ordinary citizens. According to the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) , 81% of ASEAN citizens have heard of the ASEAN but only 24% have a basic understanding of what it is and it’s purpose for existing. This is alarming because every citizen benefits from this regional organization. ASEAN needs to make itself understandable with its messaging especially on how benefits can be derived .

Due to this challenge, PCOO envisions “that every Filipino will know how ASEAN has benefited them.” PCOO created a campaign that speaks to everyone, from all walks of life– from government workers, media, NGOs, civil society, the academe, business sector, the youth and event the grassroots communities. The farmer has as much at stake in a unified ASEAN as a CEO of a multinational corporation.

The campaign will be attained by having roadshows all throughout the year. PCO will travel to different barangays all over the country. ASEAN representatives from PCOO will deliver talks, conduct seminars and even distribute comics and other reading materials, written in different Philippine dialects. This way, no one is left behind and we reach those without access to the Internet or traditional media.


The six thematic priorities

Citizens will likely ask, how will ASEAN benefit us?  These 2017 themes answer the question.

Number one, A People-Oriented And People-Centered ASEAN will prioritize health and nutrition for ASEAN citizens and the social protection of women, the elderly and disabled. We will also focus on the rights of our migrant workers, and how we can ensure that they will not be exploited or mistreated.

Number two, Peace And Stability in the Region, all the ASEAN members work together to keep the peace to stop the proliferation of illegal drugs and counter terrorism.

Number three, Maritime Security and Cooperation, ensures we protect our seas and the citizens who depend on it. Our fishermen and individuals who use these waters must be able to enjoy their rights and perform their tasks without feeling insecure about their safety. Due to the importance of shipping and seaborne trade in the region, we will need to conduct a series of workshops and dialogues to strengthen maritime security and cooperation.

Number four, Inclusive, Innovation-Led Growth, means promoting entrepreneurship especially micro, small or medium enterprises. We will help employees become business owners, while our businessmen are encouraged to go digital in order to compete globally.

Number five, Resilient ASEAN. We know that storms, droughts, and other natural catastrophes are impossible to prevent. But if we boost our region’s contingency capabilities and risk management programs, we can make ASEAN disaster-resilient and adaptable to climate change.

Number six, ASEAN: A Model Of Regionalism, A Global Player. We are stronger together. Our unity gives us better influence in addressing critical issues that serve the world.

These themes are the guiding principles behind the chairmanship theme, “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World.”  These are broad themes which will need specific strategies in achieving them.

These thematic priorities guide the work of the relevant Philippine government departments and agencies. Under each thematic priority, the Philippines will be pursuing, among others, the adoption of important documents, conduct of activities, and crafting of work plans and action agendas on vital issues and areas such as peace and security in the region, maritime cooperation, health and nutrition, the environment, women and children, migrant workers, radicalization and violent extremism, trade and investments, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) , and innovation and inclusive growth.

The ASEAN Chair

A Member State assuming the Chairmanship shall chair the ASEAN Summit and related summits, the ASEAN Coordinating Council, the three ASEAN Community Councils, relevant ASEAN Sectoral Ministerial Bodies and senior officials, and the Committee of Permanent Representatives.

Secretary-General Le Luong Minh and his team from the ASEAN Secretariat conducted a working visit to the Philippines last December 12-15, 2016  in preparation for the the substantive aspect of the Philippines Chairmanship of ASEAN.  During that visit, the Department of Foreign Affairs (as lead agency for the ASEAN Political-Security Pillar), Department of Trade and Industry (lead of the ASEAN Economic Community Pillar) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (lead of the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Pillar), along with other relevant agencies,  these pillars, held consultations with officials of the ASEAN Secretariat to discuss the Philippines priorities during the Chairmanship.

The ASEAN Summits

To carry out its priorities and that of ASEAN in 2017, the Philippines will host around a hundred meetings, that will be spread throughout select cities and regions in the country. These include the two Leaders-level Summits in April and November.

With 2017 being the 50th anniversary of the founding of ASEAN, the Philippines will also organize commemorative activities to celebrate this milestone on top of the ASEAN meetings that it will hold. Activities in support of the Philippine Chairmanship will also be undertaken by our Philippine embassies, missions and consulates.

The attention of the region and the world is on the country as Chair of ASEAN 2017. The question again will arise, “What is in it for me?”  As an ASEAN citizen, there are potential benefits in a life of a  secure environment, a better living standard , better job prospects, sufficient income and stable prices, a better education to our children, effective help in case of disaster and emergencies and the freedom to travel , work and settle.  A people-oriented ASEAN  can become a reality  as long as it opens up and listen to the citizenry.

What are your thoughts? Do you think the Philippines will be an effective chair of ASEAN?

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