President Rodrigo Duterte took his fierce campaign against illegal drugs to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Cambodia, where he called on businessmen and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to take a stand against the scourge.
In his speech, Duterte highlighted the need to dismantle what he called the “illegal drugs trade apparatus” that threatens young workers.
“The Asean youth are among the best and most creative, intelligent and innovative in the world. We must empower them to be the best version of themselves,” the President said.
“But we cannot turn a blind eye on the scourge of illegal drugs that threatens our youth and the future of our societies. We need to take a committed stand to dismantle and destroy the illegal drugs trade apparatus. We must reaffirm our commitment to realize a drug-free Asean community,” he added.
Duterte said investing in human capital should be a priority, considering that Asean is turning into an economic powerhouse with its young population.
“We should invest in human capital. Analysts point out that the Philippines, together with Southeast Asian countries, is a demographic sweet spot and is likely to post Asia’s fastest economic growth rates in the coming years,” the President said.
“The youth is certainly a key sector that we must invest in. The Asean Work Plan on Youth 2016-2020 encourages youth entrepreneurship, employment and employability awareness, volunteerism and resilience. The plan deserves our full support,” he added.
Duterte has been waging a brutal campaign against illegal drugs which has left thousands of people dead. The campaign has also led to the surrender or more than a million drug “personalities.”
The President is in Cambodia to attend the Davos-sponsored forum which focuses on Asean as an emerging key economic grouping.
As chairman of the Asean this year, the Philippines under Duterte has pushed for initiatives that would promote economic integration to narrow the gap among the region’s citizens.
Duterte also highlighted how Southeast Asian countries can sustain its economic integration through the “Asean Way.”
“We will continue to seize opportunities with our economic partners within and outside of the region. But make no mistake: in our pursuit of integration, it is the distinctively Asean Way that will guide us,” he said.
Duterte said the Asean way is “achieving sustainable and inclusive development for our region, according to our needs, at our own pace and guided by our core values.”
“The Asean Way has allowed us to get to where we are now. It will take us further forward,” the President said. “We want to ensure that the benefits of integration are felt by all our peoples in the region.”
According to Duterte, the region’s poverty levels decreased by half in the last 50 years but development remains skewed with the huge disparity in GDP per capita from a low $1,200 to a high of nearly $53,000.
“One way to address this is to remain committed to the Asean Integration Work Plan III. It is targeted to accelerate economic integration of our newer members namely: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam,” the President said.
Another way, he said, is by “Inclusive, Innovation-led Growth” wherein micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are given an enabling environment to develop and become regionally and globally competitive.
“MSMEs, after all, are significant contributors to the Asean economy. By boosting MSME capacities, we support equitable development, competitiveness, and robustness in the region’s economy,” Duterte said.
He also mentioned that the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) 2025 must be realized “if we want to promote competitiveness, inclusiveness, and a greater sense of community in the region.”
“In this regard, we have to focus on sustainable infrastructure, digital innovation, seamless logistics, regulatory excellence, and people mobility,” the President said.
Duterte urged Asean member states to work together as partners “in an enduring engagement to bring positive change for our region and our world.”
“Asean is now closer to achieving ‘One Vision, One Identity, One Community.’ But the Asean story does not end here. This is a continuing tale that we must shape and build for the interests of our peoples. The Philippines will do its part. Asean Member States will do their part as well,” he said.
Asean is currently the sixth largest economy in the world and has the third largest consumer base.