How much does ASEAN really matter?

  • Written by Angelo Tugado
  • Published in Opinion
  • Read: 411


The vaunted Filipino hospitality and sheer “pakikisama” may be behind the meek acceptance of many to sacrifice for the 2017 ASEAN Summit.

Laborers affected by no-work-no-pay, students facing make-up classes, motorists caught in last Saturday’s EDSA traffic exacerbated by lane closures, and many others have all pitched in to make our country’s hosting of this year’s ASEAN Summit and related meetings a success.

About P15.5-billion in the government’s budget has been earmarked for the hosting of the summit on this golden anniversary of ASEAN that was formed in 1967. Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno even said that actual costs have risen with the attendance of more world leaders – 21 in all, instead of the initially expected 10 plus 3 (heads of the 10 ASEAN member states plus heads of three countries called dialogue partners).

With the huge money involved to pull off the extravaganza, plus all the other big and small sacrifices of people in Metro Manila and Clark in Pampanga where dignitaries’ arrivals and meetings took place, one may ask: Was everything worth it?

It was billionaire businessman Enrique Razon who said on Monday that the yearly ASEAN Summit is a happy week-long event, but nothing much is done for 51 weeks of the year to really make agreements work.

Others describe a typical ASEAN Summit as “lavish with bombastic words and expensive pageants that are often bereft of meaning and lasting value.”
“Participants in the summit make contacts without any commitment to personal engagement. They take part in dialogues that are not real conversations. Daily events in the summit are like a rush of orchestrated filmic images without presence, plots without any fixed purpose, and colorful spectacles that start with a bang and end in a whimper,” wrote Fr. Rolando dela Rosa, O.P.
“Gathered are presidents and prime ministers purporting to offer collective solutions to humanity’s most intractable problems – solutions that, alas, are ultimately drawn from the shallow well of their respective national interests,” wrote sociologist Randy David.
“On such occasions, they may be seen engaging in warm and courteous pleasantries with their hosts and interlocutors. But that’s the public side of these events. The text of the agreements they actually sign at the end of these meetings may often be so loosely worded as to yield nothing of any real consequence.”
But amid impressions that the much-ballyhooed ASEAN Summit can turn out to be practically worthless in terms of immediate tangible benefits to the 10-nation regional bloc, many appreciate the strides taken by ASEAN to forged “a community of peace and cooperation based on the principles of consensus and non-interference in internal affairs” of its members.
Amid all the crises in this part of the world – including the Asian currency meltdown, the civil war in Cambodia, the numerous coups in Thailand, the brewing extremism and radicalization of areas in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippines – ASEAN has been steadfast as a regional bloc.
Compared to other regions of the world such as the Middle East where wars and violent conflicts have erupted, the ASEAN region remained an area of general peace and cooperation. Indeed, the principles of non-interference and consensus have proven to avoid conflict among its member-states during ASEAN’s existence in the past 50 years.
But these two principles are also undermining ASEAN’s strength. Non-interference has prevented ASEAN from expressing condemnation, or grave concern at least, over the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar with the brutal military campaign against the Rohingya minority.  And the need for consensus has also prevented ASEAN from condemning and fiercely resisting China’s aggressive expansionism in the South China Sea all this time.
Ergo, in these matters of extreme significance, does ASEAN really matter?