Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte emphasized the need of eradicating drug impunity during the World Economic Forum (WEF) on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Thursday, May 11, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
In his keynote speech, Duterte urged the international leaders to pursue a drug-free community to protect the younger generation from harm brought by narcotics.
The Filipino president warned that drugs threaten the Southeast Asian youth’s potentials, which he described as “among the best and are most creative, intelligent, and innovative in the world.”
“We cannot turn a blind eye on the scourge of illegal drugs that threatens our youth and the future of our societies,” Duterte said.
He then urged international leaders to “take a committed stand” in dismantling and destroying the “illegal drug apparatus.”
“We must reaffirm our commitment to realize a drug-free ASEAN community,” he added.
Noting that the ASEAN “is a demographic sweet spot and is likely to post Asia’s fastest economic growth rates in the coming years,” Duterte also encouraged international leaders to invest in human capital, particularly in the young workforce.
He went on to say, “The youth is certainly a key sector we must invest in. The ASEAN Work Plan on Youth 2016-2020 encourages youth entrepreneurship, employment and employability, awareness, volunteerism and resilience.”
Duterte also underscored the need to narrow the development gap in the region, which he said “remains skewed” despite the decreasing of poverty levels by half in the last 50 years.
According to him, there remains a huge disparity in the region’s GDP (gross domestic product) per capita, citing from a low of $1,200 to a high of nearly $53,000.
“ASEAN is cognizant of the need for more inclusive participation in the community building process,” Duterte said.
“We want to ensure that the benefits of integration are felt by all our peoples in the region. But we face a development gap that must be addressed.”
As this year’s ASEAN chair, Duterte also said that the Philippines “resolves to establish meaningful partnership for positive change.”
“We aim to operationalize the ASEAN goal of achieving a vibrant, sustainable and highly integrated economy,” he added.
Business confidence high
Investors’ confidence in doing business in the Philippines remain high despite criticisms in Duterte’s drug war, his Cabinet officials said at the sidelines of WEF.
In a press conference, a German journalist pointed out that businessmen from his country are concerned that the drug war might affect foreign direct investments.
Duterte, who assumed presidency in June last year, has been pursuing the eradication of narcotics in the Philippines through an anti-illegal drugs campaign that apparently claimed thousands of lives, earning international headlines and criticisms.
The Philippine government has repeatedly insisted that the killings are not state-sanctioned. It also blamed reports that labeled deaths under investigation as summary killings for ruining the country’s image, saying that only about 3,000 were killed during presumed legitimate police operations when suspects tried to fight back, while the remaining 4,000 or so deaths were conducted by vigilante killers riding the drug war.
Amid criticisms, incoming Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano assured that for the Philippine government, “the protection of human rights is paramount,” added that the campaign against drugs is also a “campaign to protect the human rights” of the Filipinos.
Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, meanwhile, cited surveys concluding that 82 percent of the Filipinos feel safer and “basically love what’s happening right now” in the country.
Lopez also took note that investments from the second half of 2016 was “100 percent higher” than the first half. “So a lot of very positive indicators especially on the investments and the investment confidence is here,” he said.
“Business confidence actually has gone up 34 percent when it used to be less than 10 percent and consumer confidence used to be negative number is now positive 14 percent,” he added.
Echoing Lopez, Philippine Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade also assured the safety in the country for both local and foreign investors.
“One of the program[s] which is program war against drugs and a lot of other things is to assure an environment of safety and security. So, on one hand you have no corruption, on the other [is] safe and secure,” Tugade said.
He went on to say, “So, that’s we’re trying to do and that’s what the president is impressing all of us to do. So that the businessmen will be assured of a level playing field, of a safe and secure place of business.”