MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday again pitched his anti-drug advocacy in an international forum, focusing on eradicating the drug scourge among the youth in the region.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Duterte said the region’s leaders must join forces to fight the drug menace that he said threatens to undermine a valuable economic source – the young workforce.
“We cannot turn a blind eye on the scourge of illegal drugs that threatens our youth and the future of our societies,” Duterte said in his speech in Cambodia.
“We need to take a committed stand to dismantle and destroy the illegal drug apparatus. We must reaffirm our commitment to realize a drug-free ASEAN community," said the president, who is pursuing a fierce war on drugs in the Philippines.
Duterte said Southeast Asia's youth were key to sustaining regional economic growth. He said the drug menace threatens the youth’s potential, noting that the region was in a “demographic sweet spot,” giving it advantage over other economies.
“The youth is certainly a key sector we must invest in. The ASEAN Work Plan on Youth 2016-2020 encourages youth entrepreneurship, employment and employability, awareness, volunteerism and resilience,” he said.
“The plan deserves our full support. The ASEAN youth is among the best and most creative, intelligent and innovative among the world.”
Duterte has been unfazed by international criticism of his war on drugs, which has taken thousands of lives in both police operations and suspected vigilante killings. Police say roughly 2,700 out of the thousands reported could be attributed to legitimate police operations.
The tough-talking Filipino leader’s campaign, however, has met little opposition among his ASEAN peers, some of whom also impose a brutal policy against illegal drugs back home.
The president is in Cambodia to attend the Davos-sponsored forum which focuses on ASEAN as an emerging key economic grouping.
As chair of the ASEAN this year, the Philippines under Duterte has pushed for initiatives that would promote economic integration to narrow the gap among the region’s citizens.
“We want to ensure that the benefits of integration are felt by all our people in the region,” he said.
“We face a development gap that must be addressed. While the region has seen poverty levels decreased by half in past 50 years, development remains skewed.”
Among Duterte’s plan to obtain “inclusive growth” in the Philippines is to aggressively build infrastructure that would boost economic activities.
“As ASEAN chair, the Philippines resolves to establish meaningful partnership for positive change as we engage the larger world,” Duterte said.
“We aim to operationalize the ASEAN goal of achieving a vibrant, sustainable and highly integrated economy.”
ASEAN is currently the 6th largest economy in the world and has the 3rd largest consumer base.
At the Asean Summit last month in Manila, Duterte also called for regional action against illegal drugs before his fellow Southeast Asian leaders.