6th Asian Public Intellectuals Workshop

Davao, Philippines

Honorable Professor Dr. Edilberto C. de Jesus, Director of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization, Father Antonio Samson, S. J. President of Ateneo de Davao University, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for taking part today in the 6th API Fellowship Workshop. I would like to extend a warm welcome to the sixth group of API fellows, who have completed their projects.

The first API workshop was held on Cebu Island, and was attended by President Corazon Aquino. This year we have returned to the Philippines. I offer my sincere thanks to Dr. Jose Cruz of Ateneo de Manila University and all the people who have worked so hard to organize this workshop here in Davao.

Asia has a long history of exchange involving people, goods and information. Consider Japan and the Philippines. Many of you will know that large numbers of Japanese immigrated to Davao at the beginning of the 20th century. They were received warmly by the local people, and worked alongside them to develop the local abaca industry.

Going back much further, history tells us that groups of Japanese traders called wako reached the Philippines in the 16th century, establishing settlements in Luzon.

In the 19th century, the Filipino national hero Jose Rizal spent time in Japan, and saw for himself the momentous changes of the Meiji Restoration. More than 100 years later, the existence of the Rizal Society of Japan shows he still has many admirers in my country. Though not many people know about it, there is even a statue of Rizal in the center of Tokyo, in Hibiya Park.

Another Filipino revolutionary who went to Japan was Mariano Ponce. He lived in Yokohama as the representative of the First Philippine Republic. While in Japan he had contact with many Japanese political leaders, as well as with Sun Yat-sen, who was then in exile. Sun Yat-sen went on to establish the Republic of China and is often referred to as the father of modern China.

Through his friends in Japan, Ponce obtained weapons for the Philippines’ fight for independence from the United States. Unfortunately, the ship carrying the weapons sank off China and never reached their destination.

These stories exhibit the trust and friendship among people who shared a common cause of nation-building in the region at that time. Later, there would be the sad experience of the Pacific War between Japan and the Philippines. Today, however, our relationship is based on mutual trust. We are witnessing a dramatic increase in the mobility of people, goods and information.

I have been speaking of historical figures from Japan and the Philippines for a reason. They provide examples of our mutual understanding and cooperation. This is what API is all about, and why it is needed.

Today Asia faces a dichotomy between two mutually exclusive trends. The first is very positive. This is the rise of the middle classes, as a result of economic development in each country. The middle classes have been educated to a high level, and have attained a measure of employment and income. This is leading to the development of an Asian-style middle-class consciousness that transcends borders and cultural traditions.

The middle classes have a common awareness of issues such as democracy, development, growth and education. They also share common values with regard to popular culture such as music, movies, manga and animation.

But there is another trend. One toward confrontation. The confrontation between the haves and have-nots as social disparities grow. The confrontation based on race and religion. And the confrontation over the distribution of resources. We find such conflict right here on Mindanao.

Given this dichotomy, actions are needed to build peace and promote further development. On the one hand, efforts are needed to enrich people’s lives. On the other, something must be done to resolve confrontations and disputes. But as we all know, there are limits to what the state can do to resolve these issues. Moreover, many are common to nations around the world. There are countless examples of problems that go beyond borders, and of communities in different countries that face the same problems.

To deal with these difficulties, it is necessary to strengthen the network of people in the region who know each other well, who can learn from each other, and who can freely express their ideas in order to find solutions.

API was created precisely to answer this need. It aims to build a new intellectual community in the region by identifying intellectual leaders, like yourselves, with a strong sense of mission to contribute to the public good. These intellectual leaders are given the opportunity to travel to other parts of Asia, learn from their neighbors and take part in exchange with others with a common grasp of the issues. The aim is for them to cooperate, enriching people’s lives and devising specific solutions to the problems confronting us all.

A number of different intellectual networks exist in Asia. However, until API, there had never been such a broadly-based network of public intellectuals, consisting of bureaucrats, NGO activists, artists, journalists and the like.

At the API workshop in Phuket, I called on fellows to aim at transforming the API community into a think-tank and a do-tank for the development of Asia, one that would draw together public intellectuals from across borders, bring in wisdom and experience, and develop new methods to solve problems. Since then, two years have passed. In that time, I have been delighted by the progress that has been made. Workshops have been held in different countries, regional committees have been formed, and preparations have been advancing for an initial regional workshop, with the environment as its theme. I sincerely hope this will lead to concrete action. This is the task of those who make up the API community.

In conclusion, I would like to recall the words of former President Corazon Aquino at the first API workshop: She said, “My fervent hope is that, through this ever-growing pool of Asian public intellectuals, Asia’s uniqueness and complexity can be preserved, and its many voices magnified and heard around the world, as we join the often confusing and dehumanizing tide of globalization.”

For my part, I hope that the API community, through the participation and effort of all its members, will promote original research and hands-on activities that will increasingly contribute to the development of Asian society. At the same time, I hope your influence will extend beyond this region, and that you grow into a body that will transmit Asia’s voice to the world.