Cost and Benefits of hosting ASEAN 50

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Rafael M. Alunan III

To Take A Stand

Every Filipino, as a citizen of Southeast Asia, is foreseen to benefit from ASEAN 2017, from each of the following six thematic priorities under the theme “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World:”

• A people-oriented, people-centered ASEAN

• Peace and stability in the region

• Maritime security and cooperation

• Inclusive, innovation-led growth

• Resilient ASEAN

• ASEAN: A model of regionalism, a global player

These priorities were carefully selected to ensure that critical regional and international issues would be addressed, and that the community’s efforts would enable positive change in all three ASEAN pillars: political-security, economic, and sociocultural.

Critics point out that the country overspent for ASEAN compared to the previous administration’s hosting of APEC. There’s no basis at all for comparison. APEC was a one-time event, while ASEAN 50 required the Philippines, as chairman, to host almost 300 meetings of subject matter experts, ministers, and heads of state throughout the year in 2017.

We reportedly spent P15 billion to host ASEAN 50. But we reaped a lot of benefits in the process. I scoured the net to research, found information here and there, and stitched them together. Here’s the summary of my findings:

In monetary terms:

• We obtained P1.15 billion in grants from China to rebuild Marawi.

• China also lent us P355 billion for infrastructure projects.

• China and the Philippines signed agreements on those endeavors and in other areas: youth development, climate change, defense, and intellectual property.

• Japan provided P6.7 billion worth of assistance to strengthen our country’s maritime surveillance capability to enable us to combat radicalism and violent extremism more effectively.

• Canada pledged over P715 million of investment over a period of five years that will improve access to reproductive health.

In non-monetary terms, the following were achieved with ASEAN’s dialogue partners and APEC members that promise to have a positive impact on our future:

• ASEAN and China signed the “Declaration for a Decade of Coastal and Marine Environmental Protection in the South China Sea.”

• ASEAN and China agreed to begin formal multi-party negotiations for the finalization of a “Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.”

• A Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was signed to reduce trade barriers between Hong Kong and the Philippines.

• FTA proposals were raised for the Philippines and the US; and with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). A trade bloc comprising the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyztan.

• The Philippines and New Zealand signed MoA’s for cooperation in the areas of education, joint airline marketing, geothermal energy experience sharing, and improvement of weather intelligence.

• Nine MoAs were signed with the Russian Federation with regard to energy cooperation, fighting terrorism, railway infrastructure exploration, transport, education, and interdepartmental governance partnerships.

Within ASEAN, significant agreements were also forged or adopted:

• The “Focused and Strategic (FAST) Action Agenda on Investment” pursuant to the “ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA).”

• The “ASEAN Inclusive Business Framework (AIBF).”

• The “ASEAN Seamless Trade Facilitation Agreement Indicators (ASTFI)” signed by the ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM).

• The “ASEAN Program on Electronic Commerce (AWPEC)” and the “ASEAN Inclusive Business Framework (AIBF) for 2017-2025,” both approved in an earlier meeting in September 2017.

• The “ASEAN Declaration on Innovation.”

• “Action Agenda on Mainstreaming Women’s Economic Empowerment in ASEAN.”

• The “ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.”

• A joint US-Philippine statement ensuring the mainstreaming of the human rights agenda in the national programs of both countries.

• Despite the prevailing doctrine of non-interference among ASEAN member-states, a significant step was made when Myanmar committed to ensure the rights of Rohingya Muslims.

ASEAN 50 was certainly not a wasteful, giant party of handshakes, and photo ops. For example, India, which is currently our 14th largest trading partner is looming in the horizon to rise as a strategic economic partner alongside the US, Japan, China, and South Korea.

Johnny Chotrani, Philippines-India Business Council, Inc. (PIBCI) Chairman, sees the relaxation of foreign equity restriction as a key to unlocking the full potential of improving business ties between the two Asian countries. PIBCI sees a lot of venues for cooperation.

For one, it makes sense for the Philippines to partner up with another already excelling in the business world, like information technology [IT] to maximize complementarities. Both Indians and Filipinos communicate through the English language giving us the edge over our regional counterparts. Specific areas for cooperation were cited such as pharmaceuticals and agriculture.

Crucial to this improved business relations, however, is the relaxation of the 60-40 foreign-ownership rule. It’s an issue that’s bothering Indian investors. An Indian multinational company would find it hard to come here and just own 40%. They’d like more equity; at least 50%, according to him.

Nonetheless, there are a number of issues that government should continue marking as top priority — a.) national security; b.) transforming government; and c.) national prosperity. Government and society have long been weakened by political dynasties, oligarchs, crime and corruption. Enemies of the state and people exploit our weakness to control us.

Transforming government requires reforming and right-sizing the bureaucracy at the national and local level. That means grabbing the bull by the horns with a combination of tough leadership, tough management, tough monitoring, and tough love. People want a government that works properly for them and the common good.

National prosperity depends on innovative practices and clear strategic directions. Our OFWs, for example, have the potential for establishing trading outlets in their host countries; of functioning as bearers of honest news and solid information on both ends; and serving as pathfinders for fresh opportunities to create new wealth.

A vibrant economy, diverse trading network, and prosperous people are crucial to the nation’s overall wellbeing and to sustain the funding for credible deterrence.

In a perfect world, there is no need to build a strong AFP. However, given our risk environment, it would be foolhardy to believe that we can push our national agenda forward and defend our national interests without it.


Rafael M. Alunan III served in the Cabinet of President Corazon C. Aquino as Secretary of Tourism, and in the Cabinet of President Fidel V. Ramos as Secretary of Interior and Local Government.