Reuniting Asean ties

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014


THERE is truth to the words of author Bejamin Disraeli: “There is magic in the memory of school friendships; it softens the heart, and even affects the nervous system of those who have no heart. A kind that thrills your soul; it makes you comeback and relive it once more.”

This, to me, is a fitting adage to celebrate the life journey that was the Asean Students Exchange Program. It is an initiative of the Philippine government and the reputed educational arm of the Association of Asian Nations to unite youth in South Asia back in 2004. It's a life-shifting expedition that forged ties between Asean friends---even without constant communication for close to a decade now. This is the kind of friendship you would want to embrace in your memory, a contemplation that excites the heart, a thought of school friendship worth re-telling over a thousand times.

Having been elected as national vice president for the Visayas in the Supreme Student Government of the Philippines earned me a ticket to become an exchange student. The tough coaching I learned as president of more than 5,000 Negros Occidental High School students shaped me, to say the least, become a student leader who practically knows what “Do it Yourself” direction is about---a balance of good moral fiber, headwork and hardwork.

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The leadership experience in NOHS earned me a ticket to the month-long Asean program hosted by the Philippines. The program did not come in handy. It combined life-skills training with a sufficient quantity of understanding societal pestilence.

The program highlights included: Student-paper presentations in Ateneo, social works in Payatas dumpsite, construction of Gawad Kalinga Villages in Metro-Manila, and environmental inventiveness agenda in Laguna and Tagaytay. My personal favorites were Philippine historical tours in national museums, political planning and government assembly in Malacañan Palace and the Makati council, and the Asean youth agenda conception to support millennium development goals.

All these may be physically tiring and draining to the head, but it made me, “emotionally high.” The kind of “high” that makes you serve your country not in ways as small or little as expected, but with great things that should start immediately.

Despite close to 10 years now, our Asean ties are still intact. An example is former delegate from Malaysia Dr. Abdul Shukur Bin Shaari, a University of Liverpool medicine degree holder now fulfilling the ASEAN mission of global competiveness in medical practice. My Thai friend, Kiattipoom Nantanukul or Boom is part of a TV production outfit in Thailand that promotes Asean tourism.

In the Philippines, Earl Saavedra, the former head of Mindanao student leaders is taking Asean missions in his job as among the representatives of the National Youth Commission. Luigi De Vera, fellow Filipino delegate, inspires Asian youth in his mission to lead TAYO Organizing Council or the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations of the country. Also worth noting, former lead organizer Director Joey Pelaez of the Center for Co-Curricular Affairs of DepEd, continues to support Asean initiatives in the localities, now as Vice Governor of Misamis Oriental.

My foster parent, Praxedes Yu Tan and his son RJ, carry on the Asean dream of “safety and productivity for Asean partners.” Both are starting a legacy to make education, police visibility and government easily reached by Southeast Asians. Their passion for country and service excites me to start my way of serving the public once again. They excited every vein in my body to take an active part in public service. Service is, she said, “a responsibility of every Filipino to his country.”

Reuniting my Asean ties with them allowed me to revisit the “significant times” that pressed on me these life’s perspectives---selfless leadership, community development and heart for the poor. Apart from the huge fête we are organizing for the Asean Exchange Program’s 10th Anniversary on December, the short talk with these Asean friends significantly made me remember my promise in 2004 that I owe to yet fulfill: “I will uphold my Asean duties- keep peace, build up my nation, and love my neighbors.” (Adrian Bobe)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 11, 2014.

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