By FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE JOSE C. DE VENECIA JR.
This year’s biannual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) finds itself under the hovering shadow of the raging Covid-19 pandemic, which continues to inflict havoc on people’s health and well-being, livelihood, and economy.
Chaired by Vietnam this year, the 36th ASEAN Summit to be held in the coastal city of Da Nang, was earlier slated in April but was moved to later this June due to the coronavirus. The 37th Summit is planned in November in the capital city Hanoi.
The fight against the pandemic is an issue of common concern and an avenue for cooperation and solidarity among the 10 ASEAN member nations as it continues to advance the causes of “lasting peace, security and stability, sustained economic growth, and shared prosperity and social progress” in the region.
Da Nang was also the venue of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in 2017, where we joined President Rodrigo Duterte, on his kind invitation, in our capacity as special envoy to the APEC and for intercultural dialogue. We consider it a privilege to still be able to serve our country, even in a modest way, at our advanced age of 83. At the sidelines of the Da Nang summit, we were also asked to join President Duterte in his meeting with then Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang, where they discussed ways and means of cooperation in the areas of economy, defense, and battle against illegal drugs, among others.
The Philippines hosted the ASEAN summits last April and November, 2017, in Pasay City.
As we had earlier discussed in this column, Vietnam holds a special place in our heart as it is where we spent our initial foray in international relations as a 29-year-old presidential assistant, concurrently assigned as minister and economic and press counselor at the Philippine Embassy in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), the then South Vietnam (Republic of Vietnam) capital.
It was also in Vietnam in 1967 that we conceived of, designed, and began the implementation of the dollar remittance program for Philippine overseas workers, which now raises more than $30 billion a year for the Philippines.
In the same year, President Ferdinand Marcos visited Saigon and the Philippine Civic Action Group (Philcag), a non-combatant, humanitarian team composed of soldiers, engineers, doctors and other medical personnel. As a young embassy officer, we would visit them in their headquarters in Tay Ninh province, located near the Cambodian border. One of the young military officers in Philcagwho eventually became president of the Philippines, West Pointer – then Major – Fidel V. Ramos.
As a 19-year-old foreign correspondent for the Pan-Asia Newspaper Alliance, the first Asian news agency, and later as weekly columnist on Asian affairs of the then Philippines Herald, we first flew to Saigon, Vietnam, in 1956 to cover the visit of Vice President Carlos P. Garcia, who was also the secretary of foreign affairs, for the proclamation of the South Vietnam Constitution and first anniversary of the Republic of Vietnam under President Ngo Dinh Diem, a Roman Catholic, following Vietnam’s partition at the waist in the 17th Parallel after the defeat of the French forces in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.
We went to Vietnam for the second time in 1959, when we were invited by then President Carlos P. Garcia, who had earlier signed a Treaty of Friendship with South Vietnam, to join him on his state visit to Saigon. We sailed the Saigon River with President Garcia and then South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem aboard the Vietnamese leader’s presidential yacht. President Garcia offered us the position of press attache at the Philippine Embassy in Vietnam or somewhere in Europe but we politely declined as we were then enamored with the adventureof being a journalist at home and overseas.
As fate had it, seven years after our Vietnam visit with President Garcia and declining his offer of a position at the Philippine Embassy in Saigon, we were back in South Vietnam’s capital, in 1966, as minister, and economic and press counselor at our embassy there. Vietnam was then a hotbed amid the escalating war with the United States under President Lyndon B. Johnson, whom we had met during the seven-nation summit on Vietnam in Manila in 1966, hosted by President Marcos, and which was also participated in by the heads of government of South Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand.
In the course of our forays in political party and parliamentary diplomacy in Asia and the international community, and as speaker of the House of Representatives, we had the privilege of conferring with senior leaders of the Vietnamese government and the Communist Party of Vietnamin helping promote dialogue and cooperation, peace and reconciliation, and development in our region.
The Communist Party of Vietnam sits in the 39-member Standing Committee of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), a Philippine-initiative, established and launched in Manila in September, 2000, which now represents some 350 ruling, opposition, and independent political parties in 52 countries in Asia.