Civil Society and ASEAN

Manila Bulletin, April 2, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Civil Society and ASEAN

Byline: Fidel Valdez Ramos

THE formulation of a Charter which will establish a legal personality and juridical identity for ASEAN is gathering momentum. Even if it has become an important global forum for economic, political, cultural and security cooperation, ASEAN, heretofore, has been just an association of 10 member-states in Southeast Asia under the historic, but non-binding Bangkok Declaration of 08 August 1967. One of the most important mandates from its Leaders is to insure that people are placed in the center of ASEANas interests. Accordingly, the members of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) a" tasked by ASEANas Leaders at their 11th Summit in Kuala Lumpur last 11-14 December 2005 to formulate broad, bold, and visionary guidelines for the final drafting of the Charter a" have agreed to undertake comprehensive consultations with civil society in their respective countries to determine and integrate therein the significant concerns of ordinary people.

At the first EPG meeting in Kuala Lumpur, I emphasized the importance of an ASEAN Charter that would be relevant to young peopleas concerns, thus: "The task of pursuing the ASEAN ideal of ONE VISION, ONE IDENTITY and ONE COMMUNITY will eventually pass on and fall upon the shoulders of the next generation. Therefore, we should always keep in mind that we are crafting an ASEAN Charter not so much for our generation as for the next."

Last 23 March 2006 at the DFA building, in my capacity as Philippine representative to the EPG, I presided over the first Consultation Meeting with Civil Society hosted by Acting Foreign Secretary Franklin Ebdalin with the leaders or representatives of 31 Philippine civil society organizations. The meeting aimed to gather civil societyas inputs in the identification of certain "principles, values, non-negotiable concepts, institutions, and procedures" that would be important to the basics of an ASEAN Charter. The recommendations of the EPG will be submitted to the ASEAN Leaders by mid-December 2006 during the 12th ASEAN Leadersa Summit hosted and chaired by the Philippines. Thereafter, a high level panel of experts would work out the final draft of the ASEAN Charter which then would be submitted to the member-states for final ratification before being put into full force and effect. The second EPG meeting was held in Bangkok last 14-15 February, while the third and fourth are scheduled in Bali (17-19 April) and Singapore (27-29 June), respectively. The step-by-step process of planning, consultation, drafting, finalization and ratification could expectedly result in an ASEAN Charter about 15 months from now.

Cooperation: Three working groups

The participants in the civil society consultation included human rights and peace advocates, workersa representatives, businesspeople, educators, veterans, Mindanaoans, sociologists, family planners, and even former Cabinet secretaries, namely: Jose Concepcion (DTI), Carmencita Reodica (DoH), Mina Gabor (DoT), Jose Almonte (National Security), and Benjamin de Leon (Social Development). DFA ASec for ASEAN Affairs Ambassador Luis Cruz organized the participants into three Working Groups corresponding to the three pillars of ASEAN Cooperation, namely: Political-Security, Economic, and Socio-Cultural.

The designated Working Group Chairs were Dr. Aileen Baviera, Dean, UP Asian Center (Political-Security Cooperation); Jose Concepcion, President, ASEAN Business Advisory Council (Economic Cooperation); and Dr. Patricia Licuanan, President, Women and Gender Institute and Miriam College (Socio-Cultural Cooperation).

Recognizing that, indeed, people must be regarded as stakeholders or owners of the envisioned ASEAN community, people at the grassroots should be made aware of the substantive thrusts that ASEAN needs to take a" first, towards community integration, and eventually, political union. Notions of nationalism and sovereignty would have to accommodate and give space to the necessity for a regional, collective conceptual approach, at the expense of some reduction of sovereignty aspects, to insure the overall well-being of the peoples of Southeast Asia.

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