The ASEAN in the Eyes of a Filipino…and its tourism integration program

The ASEAN in the Eyes Of a Filipino
…and its tourism integration program
By Apolinario Villalobos

The Asians who belong to countries that comprise the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) have many things in common that led to their merging into a formidable conglomerate in the southeastern part of the globe. Except for the religions imposed by their Christian and Islamic aggressors, the rest of the unifying factors are steadfast in amalgamating the whole region into one strong organization.

Historically, the Filipinos came from the stock of migrants from Malaysia. And, even before the Spaniards, the Chinese and the Arabs came to the shores of the Philippines, the early Filipinos already had their own kind of government and thrive on a healthy business relation with neighboring Asian countries. In fact, the basic government unit of the Philippines, “barangay” is named after the long boat that Malaysian datus or chieftains used when they came to seek new lives on Philippine shores, when they escaped from the tyranny of their Chief Datu. The origin of the so-called indigenous pygmy inhabitants that the new settlers found are also traced to the Asian mainland when land bridges connected practically all islands in the region.

The desire among the neighboring Asians to unite was manifested when the late Philippine president, Diosdado Macapagal, initiated the organization of MAPHILINDO, composed of Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia, now considered as the forerunner of the ASEAN. Had there been no political restraints, the ASEAN could have been formed much earlier. Nevertheless, with the ASEAN firmly established, the next move is the integration of its ideals and principles by the member-countries into their own.

Economically, the ASEAN is supposed to move alongside the World Trade Organization (WTO). There is a need then, to look keenly into the economic provisions that govern members of the WTO, so that they will not conflict with whatever the ASEAN provides as its own guidelines, particularly on matters that concern tariff requirements. The globalization of trade which is the main purpose of the WTO has pushed the third world countries to the corner. Not only did the WTO pummeled the small scale industries of the third world countries into uselessness, but their agriculture, as well, which should be the foundation of their economy. The questions now are: can the ASEAN provide the needed balancing factor that its members have long been in dire need of for their economic recovery? Can the ASEAN put a check on the exploitive provisions of the WTO, that have put Southeast Asian countries in a disadvantaged position? Can the ASEAN propel the economy of the region towards progress, if not at least, help recover what have been lost by the concerned Southeast Asian countries?

The grassroots of the third world countries used to depend on their small scale industries and agriculture for subsistence. Unfortunately, these basic sources of livelihood have been practically mowed down by the WTO. There is a need, then, for ASEAN to flex its muscle to trigger a self-reliant co-operation of the member- countries. If the European Union as a region can do it, why can’t the ASEAN?

On the issue of the disputed, historically so-called South China Sea, the brass aggressiveness of the China has overshadowed its purported aim to play “big brother” to the ASEAN countries, some of which lay claim to shoals and reefs. It is this “big brother” attitude that has made the Chinese openly defiant to the move of any involved country to seek mediation of a third party, but which the Philippines did. The only way for the ASEAN countries to effectively come to terms with China is to be united first, so that a synchronized move can be made. If the dispute is over the natural resources in the area, there should be a compromised agreement on how they can be fairly utilized by the involved parties. But first, the whole area should be cleared of any tangible manifestation of claim. It should be patrolled by some kind of “multinational maritime security force” composed of representatives from ASEAN countries and China which shall also initiate the guidelines as basis for negotiations. A failure on any compromising effort to unify the ASEAN members shall definitely cause a hairline crack in the organization’s foundation to the advantage of China.

The ASEAN shall tackle two issues to make it truly a daunting organization that stands for the well-being of its members – the WTO and South China Sea. Only then, can its people proudly stand with self-respect as Southeast Asians.

But for the hardy Asians, one last hope that can be tackled for economic recovery is the area of tourism. And, as mentioned in the ASEAN tourism integration program, the effort shall start with the members. Restrictions will be relaxed so that citizens of member countries of ASEAN can move around the region without much to worry about, as if they are moving around their own country.

Along this line, my own view is that there is a need for all concerned to exert greater effort in preserving the natural settings of areas to be opened to tourists. The Pattaya of Thailand and Boracay of the Philippines, as well as, other islands dotting the India Ocean, have been abused to the extreme in the name of money. They are all examples of exploitive and abusive tourism. The pristine beauty of the islands are now beyond recovery or repair in view of destroyed coral reefs, white beaches littered with different kinds of debris, septic tanks that seep, prostitution, and drugs.

Member countries of ASEAN, this time, should use “hospitality” as the centerpiece of the tourism integration program, and not “luxury”. By “hospitality”, simple pension houses, hospitality homes, dormitories, and 2-star hotels and resorts with convenient facilities can more than satisfy the requirements of fellow Asians. On the other hand, by “luxury”, there will be a need for the construction of luxurious 5-star resorts and hotels which will definitely destroy the skyline and setting of the touristic areas and give rise to prostitution and proliferation of drugs – all leading to the deterioration of the people’s values and culture.

The some kind of “backyard tourism” should be controlled by ordinances that limit the aspect of management to locals, and most importantly, not allow investment on infrastructure by foreigners. This may sound harsh, but it is the only way to show that Southeast Asians can be on their own. The foreign investors have already did their exploitation by establishing factories that employed cheap labor…and nothing happened out of such “generosity”. Instead, the foreign investors use their investments in blackmailing employees by threats of shut down and transfer to other countries, if demand for higher pay is made.

The ASEAN tourism integration program, in my view, is a brighter hope as it has initiated the removal of the barrier among the member citizens. It is the sign that many have been waiting for, that would unite the region against the exploitation of the rich and “generous” nations.

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