President President Benigno S. Aquino III’s Speech at the 2016 East-West Center (EWC) / East-West Center Association (EWCA) International Conference
Centennial Hall, Manila Hotel, One Rizal Park, Manila
15 January 2016
Those of you who, like myself, might have attended a Jesuit institutions will probably relate to what I’m about to share. In school, I had to take a course called Marriage and Christian Commitment—I think I have fulfilled the second part, I am trying to fulfill the first part of that course. [Laughter] And I distinctly remember reading in the very first few pages of the book a line which said [that] all couples who want to get married agree that the goal is to become “one.” Roughly in the next sentence after that, the conflict arises, as the concern focuses on a singular question: “Which one?”

Of course, I only have peripheral experience in the matter. I have no practical experience, but I found this anecdote as truly interesting in light of the theme that you have today, which centers on bridging diverse milieus. This is an endeavor to which the East-West Center has committed itself since its inception over five decades ago. We continue to see this commitment in the work carried out by your fellows and by so many of your distinguished alumni—two of whom are reliable and respected members of the Cabinet, namely Secretary Arsi Balisacan, the Director-General of NEDA, and Secretary Neric Acosta, the Presidential Adviser for Environmental Protection.

Indeed: The East-West Center’s devotion to strengthening the links that bind the two sides of the vast Pacific has enabled thousands of academics, policymakers, analysts, and public servants—like Arsi and Neric—to share ideas, best practices, and learn more from their counterparts within the region, and find opportunities to forge and take advantage of synergies towards the benefit of so many.

While I believe we should focus on similarities, we too must consider the diversities between us. May I point out: As we have seen time and time again, any approach that is not cognizant of the persisting conditions on the ground will most likely become counterproductive. Perhaps I can give you an example based on our own experiences: In our efforts to build back better, we truly welcome the support of so many partners. While there have been instances where the aid provided to us is incompatible with our people’s needs, such as when clothes not suitable to our climate and our certain localities are donated, we Filipinos—still with utmost gratitude—endure and carry on with our lives.

However, there have been situations where, instead of listening to us, certain groups would be very rigid in terms of their assistance, to the point that they would insist on their singular method and thus discount the actual needs of the affected populace. In such situations, I find myself asking the question: How do you get to actualize the objective that everyone aspires to achieve, when one chooses to take a path that is not only different but also exclusive? Shouldn’t anyone who professes to help be willing to contribute in building the necessary consensus?

As President, I have always respected the wisdom of collective thought. Consensus building may be a more tedious process, but if achieved, it is undoubtedly a firmer foundation for any human activity. In the previous year alone, we have all witnessed what can be achieved when there is both a unity of purpose and consensus in charting the way forward, and when everyone sitting at the table contributes to the development of a reasonable and just solution that takes into consideration the plight of all. The agreement reached at COP21 in Paris serves as a shining example of that at the global scale; while the milestone outcomes of APEC, which we just recently hosted here in the Philippines, stand as guides as member economies work to espouse greater inclusivity and solidarity within their respective shores and within our region towards building a better world.

Allow me to emphasize: Often times, we, along with our many partners, find ourselves on the same side of a lot of common concerns: be it the increasing threat of climate change, uncertainties in the global economy, challenges to stability and our sustained development, the threat of extremism, amongst many others. These disruptions, so to speak, often present opportunities for us to better engage one another, highlighting the complementary relationship that may have long existed between our needs and their capacities, and vice versa.

One such example is the recently promulgated decision on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between our country and the United States. As we are all aware: The Philippines has a long-standing Mutual Defense Treaty with the U.S. We have the Visiting Forces Agreement as an adjunct of that. Under the Mutual Defense Treaty, we are obliged to come to the defense of one another, and assist each other in times of need. My question here is: How do we do that if we are not familiar with each other’s resources, equipment, doctrines, and limitations?

The basic logic behind EDCA is interoperability, and anybody who is reasonable will see that this agreement is an enhancement of both our countries’ abilities, rather than a threat to anyone else. To my mind, EDCA has a very practical purpose for developing our own armed forces: All the modern hardware carries a significant price tag; yet with EDCA, we have a chance to try the cutting-edge equipment and see just how suitable they are to our needs, without having to buy them first.

But, if we get to train with the U.S., a far more advanced force, we can learn from them the strengths and shortcomings in using such equipment, and we can even redefine and understand such under our own parameters. On the reverse side, the U.S. gets to learn how to make do with fewer resources, which in a conflict situation is always a high probability if not an intense possibility.

As highly regarded experts in your respective fields, I trust that you will see just how beneficial such a relationship can be for my countrymen and the people of the United States, as well as for our partners; it is, after all, a relationship borne of consensus and a recognition of differences, of shared principles and aspirations, and of a unified vision in building a safer, more productive environment for our peoples.

Now, I believe this to be true: Our individual, varying experiences should always inform our shared strategies, which enable us to be more equipped to contend with the various kinds of disruptions we mentioned earlier. In bridging the divides between our respective contexts, it is my belief that the East-West Center, its fellows, and alumni can play an even greater, more active role by enriching the means by which we communicate, promoting more positive insights about one another, and facilitating a deeper appreciation for both our similarities and diversities.

On this note, it is sincerely my hope that this conference stands as a truly meaningful venue for all of you to reinforce relations, which will in turn serve as cornerstones for the kind of transformational change that can be fulfilled through your own work and advocacies. Meanwhile, in my remaining months in office, you, along with my Bosses, can continue to count on our administration, as we bolster our ties with all nations and peoples of goodwill and contribute furthermore in the collective effort to leave a world that is more open, more inclusive, and more just—one far better than what we found.

I thank you, good day.