My Asean story

By: Mike Acebedo Lopez November 14,2017 - 09:31 PM


On the occasion of our country’s chairmanship of the Asean, our hosting of the Asean Summit, and the 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), please allow me to share with you my personal Asean story.

Over a decade ago, months before we played host to the 12th Asean Summit and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, just like President Duterte today, held the chairmanship of the Asean, I had the honor of representing the country in the final review of the draft documents, including the main outcome document, to be signed by the Asean heads of state and government at the summit to be held in Cebu (January 2007) where I also served in the NOC (National Organizing Committee). That it was going to be held in Cebu, my home province, was a lucky coincidence.
The review of the main outcome document was conducted during the Coordinating Conference of the Asean Socio-Cultural Community at the Asean Headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Our job was to fine-tune the draft and ensure the language of the text was consistent with the language of international policy and that the objective of building a community of caring and sharing nations is properly enshrined in what would become a community-building milestone document when signed by our leaders.

I, however, noticed one glaring absence in the draft document: the role young peoples play in the establishment of an Asean Community and the realization of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (UN MDGs), both by the year 2015. Being the youngest member of the Philippine delegation, I felt compelled to speak up for my generation.

For how can we speak of the future of Southeast Asia without any mention of the youth, the future leaders of our region, in a document that recalls the goals of the Asean vision, that reaffirms the aim of building a community of caring societies, and that provides impetus to charting our direction toward an Asean community cognizant of its identity and rich cultural heritage?

So I mustered the courage to raise my hand and speak up. I protested the absence of “youths” in the draft and lobbied for its inclusion.
You must consider that I was 23 years old at the time, a 23-year-old senior official speaking in a roomful of adults, most of whom were members of the Asean secretariat, as well as ambassadors, ministers, and senior officials representing their respective countries.

I reckon I was the only one who was under 30 in that hall at the Asean HQ, the only one who was well within the definition of “youth.” The running joke among some delegates? “Here comes the 12-year-old Filipino assistant minister and his backpack, like he’s ready to go to class.”
But thank goodness the adults listened. And it was consistent with the spirit of a caring and sharing community that they did, the very essence of what we were trying to achieve there.

“So that’s how it feels to speak up and have the world listen to you,” I thought to myself. (It was a great practice, for 11 months later, I would be doing something similar as a delegate to the UN General Assembly in New York.)

After successfully lobbying for the inclusion of a provision on the role of young peoples, I ended up drafting said provision myself, one that was to be included in the main outcome document of the 12th Asean Summit, the “Cebu Declaration Towards One Caring and Sharing Community.”
Sure, everyone still reviewed and fine-tuned what I had prepared, but it really is my deepest honor and privilege to have been the one to fight for its inclusion and to eventually be the one to write the draft.

The fifth provision of the Cebu Declaration thus reads:
“Encourage greater institutional collaboration in promoting ASEAN awareness particularly among the younger generation, and promote the increased involvement of ASEAN youth and students at national and regional level activities, so that they can make valuable contributions to the achievement of the ASEAN Community.”

I may sit this particular Asean Summit out, but the small role I played a decade ago is something I will bring with me wherever I go.
This provision will for always live on, etched in history, in the Cebu Declaration signed by President Arroyo and other Asean heads of state and government, as one of only four Asean community-building milestone documents. The others are the 1967 Bangkok Declaration, the 1997 Asean Vision 2020, and the 2003 Bali Concord II.

That I was a part of something bigger than myself, that it was a Filipino, a Cebuano, who spoke up for Asean youths, who contributed a crucial provision to an ASEAN milestone document, would always be one of the most cherished milestones of my early twenties. Thank you to President Arroyo for the trust and confidence.

We have since missed the 2015 target, but we’ve made considerable headway as a community of nations since 1967 and since 2007. And so I look forward to the complete realization of our collective vision for Asean integration very soon as much as I cheer our country and President on. Mabuhay!

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