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M. Robredo: Address to Asia Pacific Summit 2018

Address to Asia Pacific Summit 2018, Kathmandu, Nepal, Nov. 30–Dec. 3, 2018


Esteemed Heads of State and Government, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today’s gathering is an important step in deepening our shared commitment to working together towards lasting peace, understanding, and prosperity in the Asia Pacific Region. In September 1956, former Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay underscored the importance of creating a strong network of nations in the midst of global conflict and struggle. Before an audience of college students in Manila, he said, “Nationalism must be balanced with internationalism; nations cannot live in isolation and be progressive and happy. Thermonuclear weapons have made war, peace and survival indivisible, making international cooperation and friendship all the more indispensable.” More than 60 years later, President Magsaysay’s words still ring true.

Across the world we are witnessing a massive shift in the way societies are governed. New forms of protectionism and extreme nationalism have taken power, creating policies that build walls of resentment rather than virtues of understanding. These manifest in various forms of violence and injustice: immigration policies that discriminate against color and accent, the growing hordes of refugees in war-torn states, sweatshops full of underpaid workers, the proliferation of fake news on social media and the use of aggressive behavior to threaten smaller, less powerful states.

Amid all of this, one thing has stood out. The fate of humankind rests not in the hand of one leader or nation but in our collective resolve for transformative change in the region. That is why today’s gathering is very important. If we want to address the critical challenges of our times, we must be ready to look inward and be critical of our own stand. We must be willing to ask, what are the values that we still hold on to during the most turbulent of times?

As Asian brothers and sisters, what are the principles that bind us as one region and will allow us to collectively face shared challenges? We live in extraordinary times, extraordinarily difficult times when technology is feared to make millions of workers obsolete, when the poor and the underprivileged are struggling to find their voice and their place in policy making, when some of the greatest challenges we face like terrorism, human trafficking and climate change know no borders, when wars are ravaging nations, states and cities. Because of these extraordinary and complex challenges, I fear we will not survive a scorched-earth existence if we do not learn to work together.

Today we find ourselves on the brink of yet another modern-day war. This war is not fought on battlefields nor won by military strength. This is a war that slowly consumes swathes of our populations, feasting on their anger, nurturing apathy and hate towards governments and traditional institutions. It is a war that has made it possible for dictators and authoritarians to ascend back to power, for human rights to be subverted, and for race, gender and religion to be used as tools for segregation. This war has crippled millions, subjecting them to abject poverty while elites prey on the states’ wealth and resources. What is this war I am talking about? It is the silent war against freedom and democratic rule.

Nowadays, populists and authoritarian leaders were winning free elections no longer to have manufacture reasons for people to reject freedom. The people themselves are throwing freedom away. Why? They are frustrated with free thinking, free markets and the free press. They say that in the end, these institutions have not made their lives better. This is why it is important for us to stand our ground and have a unified response to the challenges we face. It is no longer enough to fight for freedom for its own sake, although to some, freedom from tyranny and political repression are unquestionably ends in themselves.

It is undeniable that a significant portion of populations and electorates all over the world are increasingly frustrated with freedom that gives them the right to vote but keeps them poor and hungry. To restore trust in democracy and keep the freedom alive, we have to make it work for the last, the least and the lost. That is the ultimate battle; that is the ultimate test. This is not a new concept. Three quarters of a century ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt outlined four fundamental aspects of freedom that must be upheld in the struggle against tyranny: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. The lesson is clear. Civil liberties are critical but the soul needs economic justice. To be truly free and to be inoculated against the allure offered by tyrants, all these freedoms must be upheld.

So at this critical juncture in the history of our region and in the world, we need leaders who will march and rally behind the banners of freedom and peace. We need citizens to stand up against abuse and corruption and consecrate their lives to building stronger institutions. We need to develop empathy, or else we risk losing our humanity. As we expand and deepen our political, economic and sociocultural relations, let us not forget the daily struggles of those relegated to the peripheries: Now more than ever, they need to be represented on the international stage.

Together, let us give our people the opportunity to challenge existing systems, to be critical of their leaders, and take part in the decision-making process. The journey may be long and arduous, but it will be worth every pain, every tear and every sacrifice. This is the brand of peace and freedom that the Asia Pacific can proudly call its own. This is the legacy we want to leave behind. Thank you very much. I wish you a peaceful summit. As we say in Filipino, “Mabuhay po kayong lahat!”



To go to the 2018 Asia Pacific Summit Schedule page, click here.