A BLOOPER happened before the 31st Asean Summit happened, as netizens saw a glaring misspelling in the welcome tarps in Manila’s highway where Philippines was misspelled missing one letter "I."

That missing “I” gave netizens a reason to bash the hype and lavish spending of hosting the Asean to the tune of 15-billion pesos. But the missing letter “I” is kind of symbolic of how such big events, big talks of big countries, are marginalizing us.

For instance, the missing “I” stands for the indigenous peoples coming Mindanao, Cordillera and other places. They are out on the streets protesting Asean. Why, because they have an issue against large-scale mining owned by America (St Augustine Mines in Pantukan) and Canada (which partly owns Glencore in Tampakan and Toronto Ventues in Zamboanga del Norte) which encroached on ancestral lands, and we include plantations exporting fruits to Japan and China. The land that should have provide food security and ecological balance is sacrificed for gold, copper, plantations and dollars.

The missing “I” also stands for Maria Isabel Lopez. Poor lady. I admire her art and advocacy. What she did in the Manila highway is stirring debate on whether her act was wrong or right. But beyond that point, she represents the tired motorists and commuters, who saw the gridlock of APEC in 2015 and its repeat in the Asean summit. The country needs to know better how to host big international events without sacrificing the ordinary and not-so-ordinary people like Isabel.

But the more serious missing thing here is the independent foreign policy. Duterte once said no foreign countries could dictate on him, and once said Asean should stand up on its own, reverse and welcomed US President Trump, loudmouth, orange and all, who promised a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries.

Where is independence when such summit accommodates the interests and investments of superpowers United States and also Canada who are not even Asian countries? Their investments are made at the expense of our own economy. Imagine more American goods, factories, BPOs and services flooding our economy. We’re buying American instead of our own goods. It’s almost like surplus trash here, and we’re not mentioning the garbage vans Canada dumped on us because we’re dazzled by the Canadian PM playing cutesy at Jollibee.

What is clear is, the real meaning of “I” is import-dependence. Which is basically, globalization and liberalization of trade and investments. And it’s not free trade in reality, it’s un-fair trade.

The think-tank IBON mentioned our agriculture production has dropped to 9 percent of the country’s GDP. Asean’s total foreign investments are dominated by Japan to the tune of $33.6 billion. Half of this is invested in manufacturing. In other words, Asean countries like us, is just playing the role of a global manufacturing belt or assembly line for goods owned by Japan and other countries. What’s worrisome is our economy is attuned to the global needs by providing cheap labor. I wonder why can’t we nurture our own best minds and industries.

That said, with all the traffic, hype and our future sold to the highest investor, Isn’t it time to say I matter in this global scheme of things?