Shaping the ASEAN integration mindset

By Herman M. Lagon

IN THE HEART of the Philippine archipelago, the vibrant city of Iloilo pulsates with the rhythm of history and progress. These juxtaposing beats reverberate even louder this week—August 29 to September 1—as the city takes center stage in celebrating the 56th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Founding Anniversary themed “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth.” Led by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Region VI, Ilonggos and guests from other provinces will be treated to a vibrant display of the ASEAN Exhibit at SM City Iloilo.

In the opening ceremonies yesterday afternoon, August 29, 12 universities participated—four of which were private universities (Filamer Christian University (FCU) of Capiz and Central Philippine University (CPU), John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University (JBLFMU), and University of Iloilo (UI)-Phinma of Iloilo; while the rest were state universities, namely: University of Antique (UA), Iloilo Science and Technology University (ISATU), West Visayas State University (WVSU), Aklan State University (ASU), Capiz State University (CapSU), Northern Iloilo State University (NISU), Guimaras State University (GSU), and Iloilo State University of Fisheries Science and Technology (ISUFST). Currently, 10 ASEAN countries are being featured in the booths of AU (Brunei), ISATU (Cambodia), WVSU (Indonesia), ASU (Laos), CapSU (Malaysia), JBLFMU (Myanmar), CPU (Philippines), NISU (Singapore), GSU (Thailand), and ISUFST (Vietnam). This afternoon, August 30, a showcase of dances and songs shall be held showcasing the same countries. The exhibit of the ASEAN countries’ food and culture continues until the closing rites this Friday, September 1, with more cultural presentations up for the audience.

At first glance, the colorful booths, irresistible delicacies, and expressive song and dance performances by various colleges and universities from Panay and Guimaras may seem like just another cultural festival. But make no mistake: this is more than a showcase—it is a powerful statement of higher education institutions’ (HEIs’) indispensable role in fostering regional integration and solidarity.

It is not just about aesthetics, nor is it solely about gastronomy. This week-long celebration is a testament to how HEIs can serve as crucibles for cultural understanding. When students from different universities immerse themselves in our ASEAN neighbors’ histories, traditions, and values, they are not merely acquiring knowledge—they are adopting a global perspective. This, in essence, is the very spirit of the internationalization mindset.

Dr. Raul C. Alvarez, the charismatic Regional Director of CHEDRO VI, who spearheaded this event, understands that our place in the ASEAN community is not merely geographical. Our ties are rooted in a shared history, a collective pursuit of economic growth, social progress, and cultural development. As the ASEAN declaration elucidates, there is an enduring commitment to promote regional peace and stability, mutual respect, and effective cooperation.

CHED’s recent push to harness ASEAN languages in Philippine HEIs further amplifies this drive. As CHED Chairperson J. Prospero de Vera III wisely pointed out, embracing these languages and cultural identities strengthens our regional spirit of unity. This notion, while rooted in the principles of ASEAN, carries an essence deeply resonant with the values championed by educational institutions inspired by the essence of inter-culturality. It is an approach that fosters global citizenship, critical thinking, and mutual respect, enriching the learning environment and preparing students for a diverse and interconnected world.

Indeed, the parade of flags, the meticulously designed booths, the elegant attires, and even the challenge to students and teachers to craft songs in various ASEAN languages are not just performances. They represent an evolving narrative where our HEIs are not merely institutions of learning but also catalysts for regional understanding and unity.

As the festivities unfold in Iloilo, it becomes more apparent that the role of HEIs in shaping the ASEAN integration mindset goes beyond academic instruction. It is about weaving a tapestry of shared narratives, fostering mutual respect for diversity, and collectively envisioning a future where our ASEAN ties are not just political or economic but deeply cultural and personal.

Iloilo’s embrace of ASEAN Month is more than just a celebration; it is an affirmation. By recognizing our shared history and values and by cultivating a deeper appreciation for our ASEAN neighbors, we are, in many ways, manifesting our commitment to a prosperous and peaceful community of Southeast Asian nations. In this endeavor, we hope that our higher education institutions will unfailingly lead the way with their unwavering dedication to enlightenment and unity.


Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.