Working Lunch

Speech of H.E. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

Brussels, 13 September 2006


Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.

Allow me first to express my appreciation to the royal institute for international relations for your invitation to speak before you.

And I am pleased and honored to have had the opportunity to meet with the leaders of Europe both at the ASEM Summit in Helsinki and now here in Brussels to discuss issues of importance both to the Philippines and to the European union. I'm also pleased and honored to have been able to meet with the leaders of the government of Belgium for the same purpose. In my capacity as chair, I'm also obligated to promote... As chair of ASEAN, I'm also obligated to promote the interests of the ASEAN region, not just the Philippines in this trip.

But let me begin with the Philippines. Vigorous foreign policy is a key pillar of my economic plan and for the peace and security of my country. The Philippines views the European union as a strong partner, not only in terms of economic and development cooperation, but also increasingly in the political-security area.

The Philippines is on a roll as I come to visit you today: strong peso, rising stocks, net foreign portfolio investment more than double that of last year inflowing to our country, higher than expected growth, an upgrade of our growth forecast by the Asian Development Bank and other financial institutions.

Nonetheless, I condemn in the harshest possible terms the indiscriminate killings of political activists and journalists. There is no place in a democracy for this type of abhorrent behaviour. No Filipino citizen, regardless of political affiliation, should have to pay for the right to free speech with their life. Unfortunately, this mode of political retribution has a sad history for our nation. I aim to stop it once and for all. The Philippines is a law abiding democratic nation that upholds the rule of law. The recent spate of killings has no place in our democracy or our government.

I have escalated the response of our government in view of my impatience at the pace of resolving these killings and out of sympathy for the pain that has been suffered by the victims and their families.

I recently appointed a former Supreme Court Justice of impeccable credentials, with the full powers of my office, to investigate and cause the prosecution of these killings to the full extent of the law. I have told this justice, Justice Melo to pursue every path regardless of where it leads.

During this visit to Europe, I took the opportunity to ask European leaders to invite members of the international NGO community to visit the Philippines to review the situation and the aggressive actions our government is taking to end the violence. I am very pleased that Spain and Finland have already agreed to recommend monitors to the Philippines and I hope Belgium will also do so.

I respect the outrage about the killings, just as I too am outraged. I am seeking out international groups in order to give them a first hand account of what we are doing to stop these injustices. I have encouraged the Melo Commission also to reach out to the domestic and international NGO community to help us shape our response to these tragic killings. I welcome the monitors from Spain and Finland and hopefully from Belgium and look forward to working with them to bring this sad chapter to a close.

This issue, as important as it is, was just one of the many very positive discussions I have had while in Europe. First and foremost, I have also made progress in promoting the Philippines as a great place to do business. I believe more investments and job creation will follow. And the leaders of Europe are also very open to helping us resolve one of the greatest humanitarian issues in the Philippines today -- the prospects for peace with our Muslim brothers in Mindanao.

My trip to Europe underscores my commitment to expand Philippine economic and political relationships to Europe. I'm the first Philippine president to visit the E.U. and our role in Asia has never been stronger, reflected in our chairmanship of the ASEAN this year, and the hosting of the East Asian Summit in December. All these actions reflect a broadening of our economic and political interests.

Even though we are disappointed by the apparent failure of the Doha round, we remain committed to the WTO process. We are not going to sit idly waiting for the recalcitrant nations to sort out their problems. We are moving on many fronts to propel our trade agenda. As the chair of ASEAN this year, we are taking the lead reinvigorating ASEAN as a trading bloc.

Our leadership in ASEAN this year carries the theme of "One Caring and Sharing Community."

We will push for initiatives that will make ASEAN a shining institution that cares for its people and its environment. And one that truly shares resources for uplifting the disadvantaged, integrating the marginalized and realizing the common good.

For instance, working on the protection of the rights of migrant workers coming from ASEAN in all corners of the earth. Working for sustainable development. For instance, the center for biodiversity recently established in the Philippines. For instance, working for greater cooperation in energy security, such as the joint energy project we are putting up with our southern neighbour Indonesia. Also for instance, working for peace and security, such as the proposed convention on counter-terrorism and cooperation with our neighbouring region, the shanghai cooperation organization to advance the teamwork, inter-regional teamwork in the fight against evil.

One reason why I'm in Europe meeting with European leaders is a reflection of the need for our respective regions to work more closely together.

I agree with Mr. Jose Manuel Barroso, EC president, that the E.U. and ASEAN should give serious consideration to a free trade area between us. I also fervently hope both our regions will have deeper and more meaningful cooperation on environment issues.

We look forward to the E.U.'s accession to the ASEAN treaty of amity and cooperation as stated by E.U. high Representative Javier Solana in the ASEAN post-ministerial conference in Kuala Lumpur last July. And especially because as E.U. Parliament President Josep Borrell told me this morning, the E.U.. is interested in participating in the drafting of the ASEAN charter that will be presented in concept to the ASEAN Summit this December.

E.U.'s interest comes at a time that ASEAN and E.U. are separately pushing our own integration processes although at a different pace and in different stages from each other. But it also comes at a time when new avenues will be opened for the future. Together as we approach the crossroads of ASEAN and E.U. relations, we can take the first step towards inter-regional integration during the chairmanship of the Philippines at the East Asia Summit.

Under my chairmanship, I want to make the Philippines an effective link to work for the mutual benefit of both ASEAN and E.U. together we can forge ahead to a more meaningful and dynamic collaboration. The path would be difficult but together we can get there. I hope that we can start this new phase in our relationship because E.U. has clearly expressed interest to become an observer in the East Asia Summit where ASEAN is in the driver's seat.

I am confident that Asia, with the surge in importance of china, and with China's very active participation in the East Asia summit is going to play an increasingly important economic role in the world.

The Philippines welcomes China as a major economic player in the region and the world. On our part, given the strategic location of the Philippines as a logistics hub, we fully expect to benefit from the economic activity being generated by China. Politically, I think everyone in the ASEAN region is waiting to see how china engages the region over time.

The U.S. is and will remain a strong presence in the region. Certainly for the Philippines as our number one trading partner. If anything, the increased competition will draw the U.S. even more into the Philippines and Southeast Asia in order to compete with China and take advantage of all the economic opportunity in the region.

The region needs more competition, not less. Mr. Secretary told you I'm an economist. As an economist, I believe in the fundamental power of the markets and the need for robust competition.

ASEAN is fundamental to E.U.'s strategy in East Asia as E.U. is strategic to ASEAN's continued progress and growth.

As chair of the East Asia Summit, I look forward to closer cooperation with the E.U. on many diverse areas where we have profound common interests. While East Asia structures are still being evolved, together with the E.U. I believe both organizations can expect productive years ahead.

Over the last 30 years, there has been a strengthening of the E.U.'s relations with ASEAN. Although the years have been fruitful, there's still a lot more we can do to further improve our relations. As current chair of ASEAN, I urge the E.U. to continue and strengthen our growing political dialogue as this is the cornerstone of our strategic partnership. We invite you the E.U. to be part of our "One Caring and Sharing Community" of ASEAN.

ASEAN is rightly proud of its peoples, its history, its traditions. The region has diverse cultures and it is this diversity that distinguishes the region's immense cultural wealth. As we in ASEAN work to foster understanding among our peoples of the regional identity that we share, so too do we see the need for others outside the region to appreciate our cultural legacy.

As our inter-regional ties become stronger and more secure, we want us Southeast Asians and Europeans to be in solidarity with each other based on genuine acceptance and mutual respect.

I hope E.U. would soon put into effect what it calls "Enhanced partnerships in Asia" by redefining its strategy in the region from one that is just based on trade and aid, to one that reflects a better balance between political, economic, social and cultural elements of our relations.

I look forward to that day. I look forward to the day when we are more than your trade partner and aid recipient. I look forward to that day when we will become equal partners.

Like you, we are now moving, as we must, toward closer economic integration and tighter, firmer, more institutionalized collaboration on a host of transnational issues that beset our region.

We may not yet yield our sovereignty to a central authority but our organization would in one way or another take some facets of the E.U.

Our organizations' structures may be different but certainly we were born out of the same principle and forged out of the same idea that we are at our best and strongest when we stand together.

All these because the imperatives of regionalism and the pressures of globalization demand it.

Great conflict was the backdrop that catalyzed the formation of our respective organizations. The two great wars for you in E.U. and the Vietnam war for us in Southeast Asia. This too is a driving force behind our organizations to prevent such destruction from ever happening again by providing a forum where we can all resolve our differences diplomatically.

In principle, our journeys have been the same. We may have taken different paths to get there but ultimately our destination is one and the same -- promoting peace, growth, social development and prosperity for our people.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen. I thank you for this opportunity. It was indeed a privilege.