Public interest in Asean
As part of the security preparations for the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit and related activities that will be held in Manila, the government has declared today and the two succeeding days as special nonworking days in Metro Manila, Bulacan and Pampanga.
Although the official events will end on Wednesday, Metro Manila mayors have suspended classes in all levels in Metro Manila for the same reason as the participants prepare to return to their home countries.
For monthly-paid employees, the three-day holiday is a boon. They can enjoy the free time without any loss in pay. Not so for daily-paid employees who are covered by the “no work, no pay” policy. They will forgo three days of wages and may have to scrounge for money elsewhere to make up for the loss.
Some labor groups said the holiday declaration was hard on daily-paid employees and asked the government to find ways to mitigate its adverse effects.
They also criticized as insensitive the P15.5 billion allocated to defray the costs and expenses of hosting the Asean events. They said the amount could have been better used to provide for the basic social services and needs of poor Filipino families, rather than to impress US President Donald Trump and other Asean leaders.
For most Filipinos, the Asean gathering is a nonevent; it’s talked about in the official circles, but hardly in the households. Outside of the buntings and décor put up in the areas leading to the venues of the meetings and news reports in the mainstream media, the event has drawn scant public interest.
The occasion is viewed more as the annual meeting of top bureaucrats of Asean countries who enjoy being wined and dined, and photographed at the end of their sessions wearing the country host’s native costume with their arms locked together as a show of unity.
The significant economic benefits of Asean to the member countries have been pushed to the background, if not totally ignored. Although there had been some disagreements on political issues among the members, Asean has, by and large, contributed to the economic development of the region.
Close to home, the improvement in Asean economic relations has paved the way for several Philippine companies to expand their operations to the neighboring countries and, in the process, grow exponentially.
If the present trend of exports to the Asean countries continues, it is likely that, within the next five years, the volume of trade between the Philippines and its neighbors would surpass those with the country’s traditional trading partners, i.e., China, Japan, the United States and Europe.
Indeed, trade and commerce within Asean represent the future and constitute an economic safety net for our country in the event protectionist policies in the US and Europe make it difficult for Philippine products to enter those countries.
Sadly, however, there is minimal interest among many of our people about Asean. No thanks to colonial mentality, events in the US and Europe attract more attention (and concern) by the public and the media than those that happen in this region. It seems knowledge or awareness about the goings-on in the developed countries is considered sexy and worthwhile compared to those in our neighbors.
The government, which should be at the forefront of the information campaign about Asean, seems remiss in this task. Except for periodic broadcasts by government television and radio stations, hardly anything else can be heard about Asean and its activities. Worse, the materials used look more like space fillers, and do not make for good viewing by their intended audience.
Hopefully, in the three days of Asean meetings, the level of awareness of our people about this significant political and economic organization would rise by several notches.
And, knock on wood, nothing untoward happens to the Asean participants between now and the time they return home.
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