ASEAN INTEGRATION AND THE SUCCEEDING PRESIDENCY


Prof. Erle Frayne D. Argonza
Consultant-Development Center for Asia Africa Pacific

[13 December 2009]

BACKGROUND
Foreign policy should not be left unaddressed by any aspiring presidential candidate. The absence of foreign policy in the platform of a candidate could prove disastrous, as it indicates the parochial mind of an aspirant who is over-focused on domestic policy and governance.

Chief issue that could very well occupy the debates would be the ASEAN integration (circa 2015). The concordance of treaties on climate change and economic policies (whether to stress on fiscal stimulus or strengthening regulations) are now ongoing, at a time when Europe had consolidated through the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty. The EU-type regional integration will be a stronger agenda for emerging markets in the short-run and will lead to modifications of each one’s foreign policy architecture.

PAST FOREIGN POLICY FOCUS
Prior to 1986 (ascendancy of the revived democracy), there was largely a dis-focus in the foreign policy field. This was an area of policy drift, so to speak, as the country had no independent foreign policy to speak of. Our foreign policy agenda then were dictated by the USA (concerning alliances and enemies) and the World Bank-IMF group (concerning development and economics).

Breaking out of the foreign policy chain was the greatest challenge from 1986 onwards. The Aquino regime promised to pay all of our debt obligations, thus ensuring our encumbrances with the global financial cartels. On the other hand, the Senate abrogated the US-RP Military Bases Agreement in 1991, a noble act that served as impetus for configuring a new foreign policy architecture.

The Ramos and Erap regimes continued the same subservience to the IMF-World Bank group (representing global financiers) and U.S.-centered alliances, even as the Senate signed the Visiting Forces Agreement or VFA within that two-regime period (1992-2001). The VFA was a setback to efforts by foreign policy quarters (diplomatic corps) to help us all procure a condition of independence in foreign policy, even as US troops continue to make presence in key areas of the archipelago.

The Afghan and Iraq wars was a watershed to our international alliances and efforts at achieving independence in this regard. Though committed to sending troops at the inception of the wars, the GMA regime later withdrew troops in both countries. Not only that, the same regime also re-carved the focus of foreign policy from one of gaining alliances and cooperation with other states, to one of advancing the welfare of overseas Filipinos. Our graduation from the IMF programs was also witnessed during this regime, which brought us nearer to independence in terms of international economics and development.

CHALLENGES TO THE NEXT PRESIDENCY
The efforts aimed at achieving independent foreign policy, as re-assertion of our national sovereignty, should be ensued by the succeeding presidency. The shift from external relations to overseeing the welfare of overseas Filipinos is a clear victory of the sector concerned (overseas Pinoys) and should be respected. A renewed assessment of our standing via the IMF (which imposed the disastrous austerity programs in the past) should be done, to ensure that we have indeed exited from its programs and impositions (via its ‘letters of intent’). The clamor to abrogate the VFA should be ensued while the momentum is there.

It is argued that the area where the next presidency can make a dent—foreign policy-wise—is the concurrence of a new treaty leading to the economic integration of the ASEAN at the least, and commitments to an eventual political integration at the maximum. The Philippines must re-assert its leadership in the region, a leadership that eroded due to the perceived rampant graft of government. Hopefully, a new presidency will revive our standing in the international community, and bring back our image as the leading nation in the region.

Among other things, the presidency should ensure the installation of regional institutions, to note: (a) regional executive body (with rotating chairmanship), and (b) regional central bank. The tacit concurrence of Asian countries to launch an Asian currency and an Asian Monetary Fund should also be concretized, with the ASEAN serving as the hub for finalizing the setting up of such institutions. The political parties in the region should also be encouraged to form coalitions and alliances, in preparation for a future ASEAN parliament. There also is the travel & tour agreement of non-visa passports for cross-border travels by citizens and legitimate stakeholders of the region.

Towards the tail end of the presidency, the launching of an ASEAN-wide taxation system, such as the VAT and Tobin Tax (for cross-border financial transactions), should be undertaken. Needless to say, the presidency should lead in galvanizing trade agreements and implementing them region-wide, along a win/win situation for the diverse stakeholders.

The presidency should not forget the forging of a regional identity, which should be buttressed by a massive campaign to develop regional loyalty by the citizens of the region. Along the way, people-to-people interactions, exchanges and cooperation should be encouraged.

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