Monday, September 25, 2017

ASEAN progress depends on maintaining ‘comfort level’

ASEAN leaders’ high “comfort level” has strengthened the grouping’s solidarity and promoted cooperation when confronting difficult challenges.

Hellen de la Vega, assistant secretary of the Philippines’ Office of ASEAN Affairs.Hellen de la Vega, assistant secretary of the Philippines’ Office of ASEAN Affairs.

Ma. Hellen De La Vega, assistant secretary of the Philippines’ Office of ASEAN Affairs, said that ASEAN leaders have enjoyed a very high comfort level that has enabled them to exchange views frankly and agree on difficult issues. “ASEAN has made progress because of this comfort level,” she said in a speech at the High-level Policy Forum on ASEAN on Sunday.

ASEAN is not like the European Union because ASEAN leaders make decisions by consensus and consultation, she said, adding, “Failure for ASEAN is not an option. So, we must have a decision by consensus. Otherwise, our people will ask us what is the merit of having ASEAN.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of ASEAN. As the current chair, the Philippines has organised nearly 100 commemorative activities and programmes, such as symposiums, exhibitions, workshops and publications.

She said the Philippines has always emphasised people-centered development and projects in ASEAN. “Therefore, it is imperative that by the end of 2025, ASEAN must achieve “inclusiveness” in economic, social and cultural fields.”

In 2015, ASEAN leaders adopted new action plans, known as ASEAN Vision 2025, which comprises more than 500 measures that its members must implement to bring about the full integration of ASEAN’s combined 645 million people.

For this reason, the Philippines and ASEAN came out with the “ASEAN Declaration on the Role of the Civil Service as a Catalyst for Achieving the ASEAN Community Vision 2025”, which Manila initiated to support the realisation of a people-centered ASEAN.

This landmark declaration highlights the important role of the civil service in making the different sectors and pillars of ASEAN work toward ASEAN community building and in providing support for further regional integration in accordance with ASEAN Vision 2025.

In ASEAN, she said, civil servants work in a government department or agency based on their merit and fitness, and they play two important roles:  First, they make sure that government policies are implemented fully for the benefit of the people; and second, they help make sure that government agencies are stable and secure.

Ms De La Vega, who is a former Philippine ambassador to Myanmar, said that in the past five decades, ASEAN has spent a lot of time ensuring that all concerned institutions are in place to face future challenges. “Now ASEAN is focusing on vertical cooperation aimed at solving problems,” she said.

As the ASEAN chair, the Philippines has been promoting engagements with civil society organisations and dialogue partners under the slogan “Partnership for Change, Engaging the World.”