Romulo: RP tapping ASEAN on challenges of new Aquino government

July 16, 2010 12:01 pm 

By Gloria Jane Baylon

MANILA, July 15 —- The fledgling administration of President Benigno Aquino III has eyed the facilitation of the regional grouping of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in addressing at least four challenges it faces, among which, are disaster management and economic security, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said.

The newly-reappointed Romulo, the most senior of Aquino’s Cabinet expressed this plan as he prepares for the 43rd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM)) and its adjunct Post-Ministerial Conference (PMC) and 17th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), scheduled on July 18 to 23 in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi.

This will be pursued during the meetings, he said, with the Philippine delegation pushing for the country’s interests in four key areas: economic cooperation, disaster management, political and security cooperation and human rights which are the foreign policy priorities laid down early on by President Aquino.

During Aquino’s term, the Philippines is committed to strengthen mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country, within the ASEAN region, and in the international community, Romulo promised.

He leads the Philippine delegation as DFA noted that this is the first major international conference at the foreign minister’s level in which the Philippines participates since Aquino’s became President on June 30.

Vietnam is the ASEAN’s current chair and has adopted the theme, “Towards an ASEAN Community, From Vision to Action.”

“The Philippine Government will pursue the vision of President Aquino as expressed in his inaugural speech, for the Philippines to be ‘a nation serious about its commitments and which harmonizes its national interests with its international responsibilities,'” Romulo said.

“The Philippines looks forward to seeking support from and working together with ASEAN and its dialogue partners in addressing national challenges to promote trade and investment, achieve international competitiveness, and attain greater social equity and justice,” he continued.

Aquino had also stressed the important role economic diplomacy will play in “creating jobs at home so that there will be no need to look for employment abroad” as well as in making the Philippines “a predictable and consistent place for investment,” according to Romulo.

He said that at the meeting of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers on July 19 and 20, key initiatives of the Philippines, namely promotion of human rights, disaster management, ASEAN connectivity, and a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), are reaping the benefits of Free Trade Areas (FTAs).

With the completion of several ASEAN FTAs with Dialogue Partners China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as the Trade in Goods component with India, tremendous opportunities for the people of ASEAN are presented in order to gain economic growth and prosperity, he expressed.

“The FTAs provide access to an enlarged and efficient market for the Philippines to facilitate trade based on comparative advantage and lower costs. They can also open up employment opportunities for Filipinos through the services component, as well as needed revenue for the government through investments,” Romulo continued.

The Philippines will reiterate its offer to locate the headquarters of the ASEAN Human Rights Body Secretariat in Manila to reinforce its championing of human rights, he added.

The Philippines will actively participate in the implementation of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) Work Plan 2010-2015, especially the identified high priority programs and activities for 2010-2011. The latter will complement the building of an ASEAN community.

It is common knowledge that the Philippines and other ASEAN countries experienced devastation and loss due to typhoons, earthquakes and other disasters in 2009.

Thus, in its continuing efforts to mitigate disasters and risks, the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management (ACDM), which the Philippines currently chairs, adopted and launched the AADMER Work Programme for 2010-2015.

The Philippines led the ACDM towards the crafting of the Establishment Agreement for the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Center). It is hoped that a fully operational AHA Center can be launched in Jakarta in 2011.

The Philippines believes that connectivity will spur economic growth and tourism, especially through the development of a nautical highway and the prioritization of high impact flagship projects until 2015 through close cooperation and support from the private sector.

In particular, the Philippines is pushing for the development of an “ASEAN Roll-on/Roll-off (RO-RO) Network” to promote intra- and inter-island connectivity among the archipelagic economies of ASEAN.

The 2010 Asian Development Bank (ADB) RORO study suggests that, “there is strong evidence to support the long-distance regional RO-RO routes. There are indications that these nautical highways may be a viable alternative to promote regional connectivity and economic integration.”

This will be included in the drafting of the ASEAN Strategic Transport Plan for 2011-2015, he noted.

Other examples of high impact flagship measures include tourism initiatives such as cruise tourism, visa relaxation policies, and packaging and promotion of ASEAN Heritage Circuits, which, will also be included in the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan.

“Telecommunications is the fastest and most efficient medium of connecting ASEAN. Focus will also be given on plans that would pave the way for universal access to broadband services through the strengthening of information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and online digital content,” Romulo continued.

He further said that Canada and Turkey are expected to formally accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), on the sidelines of the meetings.

Their accession, he said, is “expected to boost political-security cooperation in Southeast Asia, given their active and constructive role in international affairs.”

Meanwhile, at the ASEAN Plus Three (APT) Foreign Ministers Meeting, the Philippines will highlight the importance of establishing the ASEAN Plus Three Emergency Rice Reserve (APTERR) with its partners from the Plus Three countries, namely, China, Japan, and Korea, as soon as possible.

“This is to safeguard our food security issues in the region. We will also work on fully harnessing the potential of our relations with the Plus Three countries by exploring ways of utilizing the ASEAN Plus Three Cooperation Fund (APTCF) through projects that would address the Philippines’ key issues of disaster management, food security, and sustainable development,” Romulo explained.

As the current Country Coordinator for ASEAN-US Dialogue Relations, the Philippines will hold a session with the United States to be co-chaired by Secretary Romulo and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The session will review the current achievements of the ASEAN-US cooperation, as well as note the progress of the preparations of the outcomes of the forthcoming 2nd ASEAN-U.S. Leaders’ Meeting scheduled later this year.

For other Dialogue Partners, new Plans of Action on cooperation will be either adopted or reviewed with Canada, China, European Union, India, the Republic of Korea, and New Zealand.

For Russia, plans will be pushed forward for the convening of the 2nd ASEAN-Russia Summit, while ASEAN and Ministers of Australia and New Zealand are expected to agree to convene the two Dialogue Partners’ respective summits with ASEAN this year.

Finally, the Philippines believes that ARF activities on emerging transnational security issues will require collective efforts from the countries in the region. These issues include natural disasters,terrorism, pandemic diseases, biological threats, piracy, drug trafficking, arms smuggling, among others.

“Natural disasters are a major security challenge for the country. In this regard, the Philippines strongly supports regional cooperation and coordination in disaster relief by contributing to various ARF activities aimed at strengthening national and regional capacity to rapidly and effectively respond to disasters,” said Romulo.

Terrorism, in particular biosecurity and bioterrorism, is a serious threat to the security of the Philippines and its neighbors. The ARF offers the Philippines the opportunity to work with other countries in addressing these issues, he said.

The recent outbreaks of pandemic diseases such as SARS and A(H1N1)exhibited a very strong case that biosecurity should be a priority issue for the country.

In this regard, the Philippines is assuming the role as a lead country coordinator in this area of cooperation in the ARF, Romulo also said.

“These activities present the Philippines the opportunity to contribute and gain benefits in ensuring that the health and security of the peoples are protected against biological threats.

"The Philippines looks forward to the Meetings next week and will work towards consolidating our gains from ASEAN for the benefit of our country and its citizens,” Romulo sressed. (PNA)



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