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JEROME JALOVA 04 - 27 - 18


ASEAN, (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), was founded in 1967 “to
strengthen further the existing bonds of regional solidarity and cooperation.” The
Philippines was one of the founding member countries when ASEAN was set up in
Jakarta, while the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which was implemented in
December 2015, has a primary purpose to create one of the largest single market
economies in the world, facilitating the free movement of goods, services, and
professionals between the 10 member states. As a result, the Philippines relationship
and interaction with ASEAN and its members is of key importance to the bloc.

ASEAN is one of the cornerstones of the Philippines’ foreign and trade policies. This is
manifested in the Philippines policy to promote a more peaceful, stable, and free South
East Asia, through the pursuit of different initiatives, in the policy making, economic,
trading and functional cooperation activities. To illustrate, the Philippines actively
participates in the shaping of ASEAN’s regional agenda that will ensure the bloc’s
relevance and importance in the international arena. More importantly, the Philippines
has constantly affirmed that ASEAN centrality should be promoted at all times, both in the
group’s internal and external dealings, and that ASEAN continues to remain as the driver
of regionalism, and act as an interlocutor between competing regional powers. The
underlying agenda of this is the Philippines’ strong support to strengthen a regional order
that promotes good behavior, international trade and which adheres to internationally
accepted norms and rules for the benefit of the region. This is in line with the development
of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

ASEAN is not a supranational organization but rather a regional association. The

member states remain as the reference point of a regional organization that aspires to be
both a political and economic community. ASEAN, as a bloc, does not have a common
foreign policy but strives to achieve a common position in issues that affect the region.

The policy direction taken by the respective member-states is shaped by and grounded
on their national interests and agenda. This has led to friction between countries in
ASEAN. Due to different political, economic, and sociocultural systems of the ten
members, there are instances when the member-states take on varying and conflicting
positions on issues. Given this context, the Philippines has to maintain a delicate and
diplomatic posture in its relations with other member states, in order to push forward its
interest, in particular in sensitive issues like protection and promotion of human rights,
democracy, economic and trading issues, territorial and maritime issues, plus other
complicated relationship problems.

There are instances where there is no alignment of interests and agenda, leading to the
Philippines, along with other ASEAN member states, tend to take the lowest common
denominator, in order to have consensus on issues so as to arrive at an agreement.
Additionally, the Philippines recognizes that there exist differences in the perception and
threat analysis that confront the member states. This was last exemplified in the 2012
ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting debacle, where there was a failure to issue a Joint

Alongside the multilateral framework in the conduct of Philippine-ASEAN relations, there

is also a strengthening of the bilateral and trading ties with fellow member states that
happens in parallel. There is a convergence of national interest, specifically in the
traditional security issues, which could be brought about by perceived common threat in
the regional environment. For example, the Philippines and Vietnam have elevated their
bilateral ties to that of a strategic partnership. In a statement released by the Philippine
Department of Foreign Affairs following the conclusion of the first meeting of Philippines-
Vietnam Joint Commission on Concluding a Strategic Partnership, the two sides “on the
basis of amity, mutual respect and cooperation, the bilateral relations are growing in
various aspects, including in political, trade and investment, fisheries, marine and oceanic
affairs, defense and security cooperation, among others.” The improvement in the
relations between the Philippines and Vietnam is worth noting, given the minimal
interaction in the past. This was originally due to the fact that both countries were
members of ASEAN, with the same problems. Consequently, trading relations between
the two countries have also improved.