8 August 2017 | Manila, Philippines

Love thy neighbor.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, Sir,

Vice President Leni Robredo,

Former President Fidel V. Ramos, 

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, and the Honorable members of the Senate,

Members of the House of Representatives,  

Fellow Foreign Ministers and their Delegations,

Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Friends,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Brothers and sisters,

Magandang magandang umaga po. Good morning to all of you.

In the last few days, we have reminisced, we have marveled, we have celebrated, we have rejoiced on how an organization, that the critics said will be dead when it is born, where critics says that it is doomed from the start, is now turning 50, or has now turned 50 today.

Turning 50 with much to be proud of, proud of its goals, of peace and stability, of creating ASEAN centrality and community, proud on how it intends to meet those goals, consensus, and proud of its achievements.

This once was a region marked by conflict and poverty. Beset by difference in ideology, in culture, and different political systems. And yet, five decades later we find ourselves living in peace, stability, prosperity, with ASEAN at the center of the evolving regional architecture.

We have proven critics wrong. But who could blame the critics at that time? Similar regions with far less problems ended up in conflict yet the ASEAN found its way.

As we celebrate and rejoice, we cannot help but have both a sense of unease and a sense of hope for the next 50 years. I’ve been given the unique opportunity to have served the public for the last 25 years. And in the last 25 years of my public service, it’s been in the political arena. In the political arena, everything you do or everything you advocate should be known to the public. If not, you can’t push your advocacy and worse, you won’t get re-elected.

That is the style in the public arena. But when President Rodrigo Roa Duterte announced to the Philippines that we will now be standing on our feet, that we will now be implementing an Independent Foreign Policy, that the Philippines will have a loud but calming, firm but stabilizing voice, in the international community, I could not say no to him. But working these past few months with professional diplomats is indeed a very unique honor.

Much work is done quietly. A lot of times, people don’t even know that the work is getting done. People enjoyed the development, the progress through the peace and stability that is a product of work of the Foreign Ministers and iplomats that are seated in this room.

As I look back at the 50 years and look at the mission impossible of the ASEAN, I tell myself now anything is possible with the aid of The Almighty. Yet when I look at our agenda for this ministerial meeting, when I look at the sensitive issues, when I look on how the varying national interest sometimes coincided, but a lot of times conflicted.

In the language that people wanted, in the joint communique, or in the other statements of ASEAN, whether to make statement, or whether not to make statement, I sort of lost hope, to be honest. And then I told myself, how in the world can we find a consensus? Then Minister Retno sent me a text message, saying that she has discussed with FM Anifah and FM Minh. And maybe we should meet before dinner. We met Mr. President after dinner and our meeting lasted almost till midnight. We agreed to disagree. It was a night of passionate fighting for national interest and for our own views of how the ASEAN should proceed. But, in the end, we agreed to digest the arguments and to sleep on it.

The next day, instead of having the traditional retreat, we had lunch together, no senior officials, no secretariat, no rapporteurs, just us the Foreign Ministers and we found the ASEAN way of coming up with the consensus. Boldly, the Foreign Ministers spoke up about ASEAN Centrality and about how our national interest has to give way to the regional interest. Thank you very much, Foreign Ministers.

May we please show our appreciation to the ASEAN Foreign Ministers. In two hours, we have proven that consultation leads to consensus and consensus to cooperation. Yes, the ASEAN way. Moving forward and amidst a drastically change in world order, of great challenge, and great opportunity, we ask ourselves, how can we secure the future for our own people? For our own region? We do so with the paradigm that answers the challenges of the times. This paradigm must include shifting attitudes to change of mindsets.

We should now be thinking less that I am a Filipino, I’m Vietnamese, I’m Thai, I’m Malaysian, I’m Chinese, I’m Japanese, I’m Korean, and start thinking I am an ASEAN. I am an Asian. A paradigm that creates the environment for cooperation and collaboration despite our own national interests and differences. And our ASEAN forefathers have given us the blueprint, the road map to perfect this paradigm. They gave us the 3 C’s – consultation that leads to consensus that leads to cooperation.

We have always been associated with a regional organization since its inception that believes in these 3 C’s. 50 years later, we have overcome the divisions, the fears, the hostilities of the past. We have brought ten nations of Southeast Asia under a single ASEAN roof. We have used regional cooperation to promote growth, development, and integration. Brothers and sisters, to overcome the challenges and fully utilize opportunities, the next 50 years, ASEAN must build bridge and build on its games and successes.

Using the 3 C’s of consensus cooperation and consultation, we march on to build the better future with the additional 3 C’s. – community, centrality, and connectivity.

We need not be immobilized from the shock of rapid changes being felt around the world. However, it behooves ASEAN to choose to actively secure its own future from within and in partnership with our external partners.

While the future that awaits our region remains a bright and prosperous one, we need to think more of we than I. More of a family, more than just being a family, we need to think that we are a community. More than a community, not just a nation but a region.

The Philippines during and beyond its chairmanship of ASEAN, is ever ready to play its part in responding today’s imperatives and working with all partners in seeing the most important endeavors through.

Our President, like the different Prime Ministers and Presidents, have directed the relevant agencies and departments to act and to go towards one identity, one vision, one community.

As part of our chairmanship, initiatives, I would like to acknowledge the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia or ERIA, for working closely with the Philippines in producing a five-volume book in ASEAN’s 50 years of regional cooperation as one of ASEAN’s 50th year commemoration.

Lastly, I’d like to salute the men and women behind the camera – the national organizing committee, and those who have worked so hard these past few months, quietly and without need for recognition but through their determination and faith, they have made these meetings possible.

Thank you, Executive Secretary Medialdea and thank you Ambassador Paynor, and thank you to all. We would like our guests, our neighbors, our fellow ASEAN members to go home with 3 things in their heart.

First, the Filipino hospitality. As I said from the start, we are not only good neighbors, we love our neighbors. Neighbors are our family. Go home knowing that Filipinos love your nations and we are part of your family.

Second, we’d like to send you off knowing that in your heart, ASEAN will have one vision, one identity, and we will work how to have one community.

And lastly, to quote from our Chairman’s theme, we go home as partners for change, we go home engaging but also changing the world.

Good morning.

Maraming, maraming salamat.

Our heartful gratitude to all of you.

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