In 2007, during the Philippines’ chairmanship of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the summit adopted the theme “One Caring and Sharing Community” to highlight the importance of the socio-cultural dimension of the ASEAN integration. The Philippines, at that time, pushed for the Cebu Declaration on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers. This initiative, according to former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now Pampanga representative in Congress, was met with resistance given the conflicting interests between the migrant sending and receiving economies in the ASEAN.

The Cebu Declaration directs the 10 member-states of the ASEAN to develop effective mechanisms to safeguard migrant workers, including an ASEAN instrument to protect and promote their rights. 

Ten years after the declaration, there is still no legally binding instrument or treaty to implement the commitment. However, Representative Arroyo is hopeful that under the Philippines’ chairmanship of the ASEAN this year, the instrument to implement the Cebu Declaration will be finalized and signed in November during the ASEAN Leaders’ Summit.

This year, While the Philippines is again the chair of the ASEAN, there is so much on the 10 member-states to have stronger socio-cultural ties to accelerate economic growth, social progress, and cultural development in the region.

At the public symposium on Building ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community and Nation Building held recently in the Philippines, representatives from government, private sector, civil society, and academe concur that the ASEAN must prioritize the difficult and long-term socio-cultural issues confronting the region, such as the perennial problems of poverty and inequality, managing disasters, protection of the environment, and rising extremism, as part of ASEAN’s community-building efforts. 

In support of the 50th anniversary celebration of the ASEAN, the symposium aimed to increase understanding of the ASEAN Community vision and how the ASEAN member-states complement each other in terms of promoting socio-cultural development.

The ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) is one of the three pillars of the ASEAN Community. The ASCC, which is considered the least developed and most neglected pillar, focuses on nurturing the human, cultural, and natural resources. The other two are the ASEAN Political-Security Community and the ASEAN Economic Community.

ASEAN’s decision to include the ASCC as a major pillar of the ASEAN Community is laudable, noting ASEAN’s emphasis on upholding cultural diversity and social harmony, which are at the core of the ASCC. 

According to Prof. Hidetoshi Nishimura, president of Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia, this was “insightful and clearly different from the integration process of the European Union.”  

“Mindful of the diversities among its member-states, ASEAN discovered the consensus-building approach [which] today is called the ‘ASEAN Way’. Despite their diverse cultures, languages, religions, and political systems, ASEAN has built peace and stability as a region and as a community in the past five decades,” according to Nishimura.

There are so much discussions and presentations on various topics to fulfill this, including education, social protection, the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area, human rights, and peace and security.

And, again, a focus on the plight of migrant workers.

Filipino Senior Research Fellow, Erlinda Medalla, stressed the importance of instilling in the minds of ASEAN peoples the relevance of the association and regional integration in their lives. “This is where the role of strengthening the socio-cultural aspect of integration comes in. In a region where 10 diverse cultures come together to form a community, it is important that the people understand the beginnings and journey of ASEAN.” 

However, we believe that there is no fulfillment on the Philippine chairmanship of ASEAN if the  beginnings and journey of migrant workers are not understood, much more given the protection and promotion of their rights.

Igalang ang karapatan ng mga migrant workers.


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