Pacific Forum-A A +A
Saturday, September 1, 2012
IT IS not surprising for Pacific Islanders in Auckland to ask a Filipino about the latest teleserye, as Filipino telenovelas are highly popular in the tiny islands spread in the Pacific Ocean. One event promoter even brought actor Piolo Pascual for a concert in New Zealand, and there were as many Pacific Islanders as there were Filipinos in the audience.
Yet how much do we Filipinos know about our Pacific neighbors? Probably most of us associate them with PBA basketball player Asi Taulava. Other than that, we don’t have as much attachment to them as our Asian neighbors.
That is why in the Pacific Forum currently ongoing in Cook Islands, the Philippines is not a participant. The forum, which is held annually, includes Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
This year’s gathering has become more interesting with the presence of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, sending a message that the United States wants to be an important player in the region. This is important because of the increasing influence of China.
Other than the economic part of the equation, China may likely establish security agreements with some of the island-nations, and that prospect brings jitters to the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
The two highly visible issues in the forum are climate change and gender equality. The rise of the sea level is as much a concern for the island-nations as it is in the Philippines. In the field of gender equality, the Philippines can be a model, as women have taken important roles in governance. We had two women as presidents and recently has a woman as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
More importantly, the Philippines has vested interest in the marine resources in the Pacific, with Filipino companies engaged in fishing and canneries in the region. If the Philippine government fails to become even a dialogue partner in the Pacific Forum, it may wake up one morning, losing out to Chinese ventures in the lucrative marine industry.
The Forum’s Pacific Plan is focused on economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security all meant to raise the living standards of the peoples of the Pacific. The nation or nations that contribute to the attainment of the Plan will certainly get a fair return.
The leaders of the island-nations are at the crossroads, and they must stay true to their vision in the Auckland Declaration in April 2004: "We seek partnerships with our neighbors and beyond to develop our knowledge, to improve our communications and to ensure a sustainable economic existence for all."
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 01, 2012.