Strengthening the Socio-Cultural Foundations of ASEAN Cooperation

As ASEAN’s Leaders and partners descend on Manila for the ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit this November, ASEAN Leadership Amid a New World Order organized by Stratbase ADR Institute, along with its session partners the Philippine Trade Foundation Inc, Asia Society Philippines, and the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation, featured insights on ASEAN’s ability to make use of its strengths and capture its potential as a global platform for cooperation.

The conference held last 8 November 2017 centered on the three pillars of ASEAN with the following themes: Protecting the ASEAN Community from Evolving Political-Security Challenges; Strengthening the Socio-Cultural Foundations of ASEAN Cooperation; and Realizing Economic Integration in Asia.

Former Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Ambassador Albert del Rosario opened the forum by reading a letter he addressed to the leaders that would be converging in Manila for the 31st ASEAN Summit.

He underscored the concerns faced by the region today such as the growing tensions in the Korean peninsula and the encroachment of the South China Sea. Moreover, he noted the apparent lack of leadership in today’s ASEAN and concluded by stating that he hopes the region “work together in upholding that right, instead of might should be our guiding principle.” 

Strengthening the Socio- Cultural Foundations of ASEAN Cooperation: a people-centered ASEAN

The second session was convened with the help of Asia Society Philippines it focused on the 2nd Pillar of ASEAN – PEOPLE.

Ambassador Delia Albert, Former DFA Secretary, opened with the question:  How do you create oneness in such a diverse region? She continued, that to foster a feeling of oneness amongst the distinct citizens of ASEAN it is fundamental to harness the strength of the current generation to build a shared identity. She added that the next 50 years of the ASEAN needs to harness the existing institutions and to work together for shared success.

Dr. Federico Macaranas of the Asian Institute of Management, supported her insights as he underscored the need for today’s issues to put people at the center of the solution. According to him, issues such as the challenge of making education relevant, people-centered development, and the centrality of the region to the so-called Great powers, behoove the region. He added that the existing trilemma, a situation wherein one of the stakeholders is ignored when forming a solution, is slowly being solved by the ASEAN in its attempts to include all possible stakeholders. Moreover, he stated that it is imperative to merge the three pillars of the ASEAN when addressing issues such as terrorism. For problems in the new world order, should no longer be segregated whether they are security or socio-cultural problems or political problems.

But in order to strengthen a people, Dr. Jose Dalisay, Jr. discussed national identity must be defined.  National identity is defined by one’s culture.  He emphasized that without culture there is nothing left to a nation but the soil beneath its people’s feet. It is then problematic, that it is only viewed as the one-time display of certain cultural treasures since most of our problems whether economic or political are manifestations of deep seated cultural issues. Additionally, he also presented the economic side to harnessing culture and our creative industries. He showed that in the Philippines the creative industry has a large potential to contribute to the economy as it has been doing in other countries. Especially, in a world wherein Asia has overtaken the West in producing books, films, and music but this Asian dominance is one that lacks the ASEAN perspective; therefore, it would be necessary to develop culture and see that its potential is cultivated. Ultimately, he ended by stating that while it is lamentable that culture and the arts can only be seen from the profit making scheme, for now, that does not change how it can be used to potentially change policy that affects everyone and to build a collective identity.

To complement a culture that cultivates a confident identity, Dr. Carlos P. David, discussed how access to technology as the great equalizer between countries. Unfortunately, there seems to be a gap from when a consumer nation, like the Philippines, gets the technology belatedly and when the needs have already outpaced what is at hand. Therefore, he suggested that the community should find ways to share the technological achievements so that when they are put out into the market they can be improved upon by other countries that consume them thus making the technology making it more accessible. As such, as long as there is a gap between developing-consumer countries then the consumers would always be left behind.

The session wrapped up with a synthesis and moderated panel led by Former Secretary of Labor and Asian Institute of Management professor, Professor Nieves Confesor. She noted that there is a coordination conundrum in facing cross-cutting and cross-sectoral issues. Professor Confesor also concurred with the panelists that we must continue to work on shaping and sculpting an ASEAN Identity, and that it must be suited for the ASEAN Community Vision 2025.



Text by Ralph Manuel

Photos by Stratbase ADR Institute