BANGKOK, Thailand—President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Saturday, June 22, highlighted the need to invest in people if the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) wants to achieve a sustainable regional development.
In his intervention at the 34th ASEAN Summit (Plenary) at the Athenee Hotel here, President Duterte described the region’s people as the “greatest resource.”
The ASEAN Summit in Thailand eyes advancing further the bloc’s shared vision of a people-centered and people-oriented ASEAN community.
“Excellencies, we all aspire for inclusive, equitable, and sustainable development. If we are to achieve this, we have to invest in our greatest resource—our people,” he said.
The Chief Executive then expressed the Philippines’ support for the establishment of an ASEAN Technical and Vocational Education and Training Development Council.
He likewise encouraged ASEAN to promote greater people-to-people connectivity in the region, noting that mobility of tourists, students, and skilled workers should be improved to realize the vision of one ASEAN community.
“As we facilitate people’s mobility, it is imperative that we promote and protect their rights, especially those who are vulnerable,” he said.
“Let us, therefore, implement more effectively ASEAN instruments that combat human trafficking and promote the rights of migrants and persons with disabilities,” he said.
The President then conveyed that in support of ASEAN’s collective goals for the region, the Philippines joins other ASEAN Member States in adopting four important documents: the ASEAN Leaders’ Vision Statement on Partnership for Sustainability, the ASEAN Leaders’ Statement on the ASEAN Cultural Year 2019, the Bangkok Declaration on Combatting Marine Debris in ASEAN Region, and the ASEAN Indo-Pacific Outlook.
During his speech, President Duterte acknowledged that ASEAN cooperation has brought greater peace and stability and progress to the peoples for decades.
“ASEAN has taken its rightful place – the driver’s seat – in key regional mechanisms for security, stability, and sustainable development,” he said.
He admitted, however, that challenges remain. One of the hurdles is the ongoing trade war between the United States and China that creates regional uncertainty, President Duterte said, noting that it is taking a toll on global growth and it can hinder the ongoing processes of economic integration.
“The US and China must both take the high road and resolve their differences before the situation spirals out of control. And we in ASEAN must strengthen our support for a rules-based and open multilateral trading system,” he said.
The Chief Executive stated that zero-sum approach to international economic relations must be rejected.
“In pursuit of growth, we should be partners, not competitors,” he said, adding that the Philippines supports the ASEAN Single Window, a concrete initiative towards a seamless cross-border trade.
Terrorism, violent extremism, and transnational crimes, he said, continue to threaten security.
“They divide our communities, destroy families, and undermine the growth we fought hard to achieve,” he said. He cited illegal drugs that “corrode the very fabric of societies.”
Calling on his fellow ASEAN leaders, he said, “We must redouble our collective efforts to counter these threats effectively and with finality.”
President Duterte also touched on natural disasters that “occur more frequently and at an intensity unseen before—be it typhoon, drought, earthquake, landslide, or volcanic eruption.”
The cost of natural disasters is horrendous, especially for the people in Southeast Asia, he said, adding calamities create displacement, destruction, and death.
“We must hold countries most responsible for climate change to account, to answer. We must adapt and build our resilience by advancing initiatives that care for the people and the environment,” he noted.
Also during his speech, the President called on ASEAN to help Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) harness digital technology.
“MSMEs are the backbone of ASEAN economies. Let us help MSMEs harness digital technology so they can play a bigger role in the global value chain. We need to recognize that MSMEs can be powerful engines of growth and job creation in our region,” he said.
The President recognized how cutting-edge technological breakthroughs change our societies “in ways we have yet to fully understand” and empower people, but “they also widen existing divisions.”
With regard to the “unfolding” Fourth Industrial Revolution, the President said the benefits should be maximized to “accelerate growth, alleviate poverty, and bridge socio-economic gaps.”
To achieve the group’s vision of a well-integrated ASEAN, the President suggested the need to build more resilient infrastructure, sustainable cities, and innovative systems.
ASEAN Business Advisory Council meeting
On his second day in Thailand, the President joined his fellow leaders at the ASEAN Leaders’ Interface with representatives of ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, ASEAN Leaders’ Interface with representatives of ASEAN Youth, and ASEAN Leaders’ Interface with representatives of ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC). He also attended the Gala Dinner for ASEAN leaders.
The President commended the ASEAN-BAC for ensuring the dynamic private sector participation in regional economic cooperation and development initiatives.
“With the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need your support in upskilling the ASEAN workforce,” he said during his remarks at the ASEAN Leaders’ Interface with ASEAN-BAC, noting that ASEAN-BAC’s legacy project called the ASEAN Human Empowerment and Development an important platform.
The President then expressed hopes that ASEAN-BAC would continue to strengthen private sector partnerships.
“May the ASEAN-BAC, together with the Joint Business Councils, continue to strengthen private sector partnerships in the region as we move towards an ASEAN Economic Community by 2025,” he said.
On the sidelines of the summit here, President Duterte met with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during a bilateral meeting at the Athenee Hotel. PND