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Duterte seeks ASEAN help in war vs drugs

President Duterte is pushing for stronger regional cooperation to attain a “drug-free” Association of Southeast Asian Nations before the threat of illegal drugs derails the gains of the community.

At the start of the regional summit in Manila, the President declared that the illegal drug trade apparatus is “massive” but is “not impregnable” if the Southeast nations link forces to combat the threat.

“We must also be resolute in realizing a drug-free ASEAN,” the President in his opening remarks. “The scourge of illegal drugs threatens our gains in community-building. I have seen how illegal drugs have ended the hopes, dreams, future, and even lives of countless people, especially the youth,” he said.

“With political will and cooperation, it can be dismantled, it can be destroyed before it destroys our societies,” said Duterte, who has launched a controversial drug crackdown since he assumed office last year.

The President opened the 30th ASEAN leaders’ summit in Manila with a pitch for the region-wide anti-drug effort despite facing human rights concerns over his government’s brutal drug war.

Duterte has drawn criticisms here and abroad over the soaring death toll associated with his brutal war on drugs.

While he has denied the government’s involvement in the extrajudicial killings, the Philippine leader has repeatedly warned drug pushers to stop their illegal trade or else face death.

Apart from combating the threat of illegal drugs, the President called on Southeast Asian leaders to step up cooperation in fighting terrorism and sea piracy, as well as promoting economic growth and addressing poverty in the region.

“Equally important, we must not waver in our efforts to eliminate security threats to regional growth and development,” Duterte said.

Duterte said piracy and armed robbery against commercial ships have disrupted the stability of regional and global commerce.

He said terrorism and violent extremism have brought the reality of attacks right on the region’s shores and doorsteps. “Eternal vigilance is the price that we must pay to keep our citizens safe. We can only achieve this through advancing cooperation at the bilateral, regional, and multilateral levels,” he added.

On the economic front, Duterte said the ASEAN must advance cooperation in promoting economic development that benefits all people.

He said they must build the capacities of micro, small, and medium enterprises as engines of growth. Sub-regional cooperation must also be nurtured “to bring progress to those who deserve it the most or those who have the very least in societies,” according to Duterte.

“These are but a few ways to narrow the development gap and to ensure that a person – The ASEAN Citizen – does not fall into the quagmire of poverty,” he said.

Duterte also recognized the need for ASEAN to work with economic partners to integrate the region into the global economy.

“To be sure, there are rules to be played in international economic relations. Indeed, rules exist to be followed.

But when we open ourselves to probing the basis and rationale, we also open the possibility of new approaches and perhaps a better regime,” he said. (Genalyn D. Kabiling)