It was quite an experience being part of the media coverage of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) 2017 chairship and the events, together with other bloggers. Media except for the selected pool are not allowed to cover summit venue . The limited space at PICC and the security concerns of the world leaders prohibited most of us at the International Media Center (IMC) from covering the events . I understand all these but I wished the organizers considered adding a social media pool other than visuals’ and reporters’ pool.

[covering asean summitThe International Media Center at the World Trade Center

Despite the limited coverage of the actual summit venues,  the Committee on Media Affairs and Strategic Communications (CMASC) led by the Presidential Communications and Operations Office (PCOO) did an excellent job to ensure that media received all the tools and materials to cover the ASEAN summits and related summits at IMC. The place was huge enough to accommodate 1,300 journalists and  a restful space through the social media lounge and the Relaxation area. I will write more on the the IMC but here is a walkthrough.

Despite the limitation as an accredited blogger, I got to attend press briefings by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque , Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan and from the Department of Foreign Affairs  Robespierre Bolivar at the IMC .

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

I must say a press briefing by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was widely anticipated. Never have I seen the main briefing room so packed with media . Well, there were some volunteers who eagerly waited for Trudeau.

[covering asean summitMain Briefing room at the International Media Center at World Trade Center for the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits

I wrote on Blog Watch that many are charmed by the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau .  But I find some of his social media posts too staged and a turn off especially since the trash issue has not not yet been resolved.  Like most women in the room, I  am also charmed by his good looks but I will be more impressed if his statements at the press briefing held  more substance. While everyone was thrilled with the press briefing, I looked forward to his stand on critical issues facing

Then Trudeau finally arrived after being delayed by a previous meeting. I was surprised, he just went straight to the podium without any introductions. Wow, he was really a charmer speaking in both English and French.

It was the human rights issue that perked me up. Trudeau talks about this at the 8:38 mark in the video above.

“As I mentioned to President Duterte, we are concerned with human rights, with the extrajudicial killings, impressed upon him the need for respect for the rule of law and as always offered Canada’s support and help as a friend to help move forward on what is the real challenge.”

“This is the way we engage with the world. This is the way we always will,” Trudeau added.

covering asean summit

No other world leader brought the issue of human rights, rule of law and extra-judicial killings.Though the conversation was an informal one, it still triggered a defensive reaction from the President.

Thumbs up! Selfie time.

Getting a selfie with Trudeau was a challenge so excuse me for the blurry half image, He turned right from the podium to the exit but he was met with a demand for selfies. My gosh, I nearly got dragged by the crowd. Tess Termulo took  a photo of the commotion.

“Jusko tinitilian nila si Trudeau papuntang CR hahaha ” . Photo by Tess Termulo.

President Duterte

I was curious what the President had to say. His press briefing was initially scheduled for 8:00 PM but was moved to 9:30 PM. Media needed to sign up for this which I did two days beforehand. We also needed to be there two hours before the actual press briefing which was held at PICC. A bus ferried us to a holding area for a security check and a long walk inside the PICC.

Fortunately,  the press briefing started on time. The President looked tired but I admire him for his energy. I was already tired from the four day event. In fact , I was already sleepy and I was afraid I would get caught on TV with a yawn and closed eyes.

covering asean summit

One question that I hoped he would answer was his reaction to Trudeau’s comments on the human rights issue.

That’s me on the second row taking a photo of the President.

But before answering the question, Duterte lectured  about this document listing all the bad effects of drugs like methamphetamine, cannabis, cocaine and Ecstasy . I had strong doubts that President Duterte would be “receptive” or “positive”.

Towards the end, his response to Trudeau was “I said I will not explain. It is a personal and official insult. That’s why you hear me throwing out curses and epithets.”  Duterte said Trudeau was only informed about the extrajudicial killings without even being informed about the details of the incidents.  The Philippine government should be given the “simple rule of the right to be heard” and advised Trudeau  to “not to get documents from the oppositions and the communists because they were all falsified.”

He felt insulted.

I expected him to say that. Nothing new.  At the end of the press briefing, I was given a copy of the document he showed earlier. The President wants everyone to know the harmful effects of illegal drugs.

Sharing the two leaders with conflicting comments on human rights is all I can do .

I am glad the human rights issue was brought up briefly by a world leader even if  “ASEAN chose to ignore its socio political mandates of promoting Human Rights,” according to Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat, a board member of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.

It is not my intention to cover the President  but I am grateful for the opportunity to get up close with these two world leaders. Both powerful men with their own conviction on what is right for their country.

It was a productive year covering the ASEAN 2017 and being part of the CMASC for 6 months . This is not the end.  I  will continue to promote ASEAN awareness , benefits and opportunities through my blog and via ASEAN Social Media Community . I look forward to Singapore ‘s turn in 2018. The ASEAN 2018 theme “A Resilient and Innovative Community”.

See you Singapore!

 Specific opportunities for women lie in export intensive sectors , the agriculture, tourism, garments and finance.

“Women control 70% of purchase decisions in Asia” – Anna Haotanto, The New Savvy , Singapore

There is this familiar saying , “Never underestimate the strength and the power of a woman. Women can do almost anything that men can do.”  You and I know that, but gender inequality remains a challenge in our country and the ASEAN region, particularly in education, labor force participation, and trade-oriented activities, among others. No wonder, four out of five women want to start a business, according to Sandra Devanthan , Country head of Facebook Singapore.  Women would rather empower themselves than wait for opportunities to open their doors. The Projected Gender Impact of the ASEAN Economic Community, a study published by the ASEAN Secretariat in 2016 confirm on the gender inequality.

READ: Opportunities for your children in the ASEAN

10 opportunities and benefits for the citizens in ASEAN


The average gender gap in labor force is at 19 percent which reflects a  gap in labor force participation “between man and women as well as inadequate and unequal access of women to economic opportunities and work conditions favorable to woman.” In the same ASEAN study, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) presents opportunities  to men and women through a boost in trade and formal, paid employment opportunities.  Small and medium enterprises (SME) development provides potential  opportunities for increasing women’s SME participation in the Asean,  but there are difficulties in gaining access to finance, technology and markets.  Specific opportunities as shown below lie in export intensive sectors , the agriculture, tourism, garments and finance.

Economic opportunities for women’s participation in key ASEAN sectors Source: Projected Gender Impact of the Asean Economic Community , 2016

The Asean study show that “these opportunities will not benefit the majority of women because of widespread constraints in women’s participation in the labour market”. Many constraints prevent women from benefiting from the AEC and as a result fewer women than men are present in the ASEAN labor market. Some of these challenges are as follows:

  1. The female labour force participation rate is persistently lower across all ASEAN countries.

2. Persistent gender skill gap and gender wage gap. More women are employed in lower skilled and lower paying jobs than men, resulting in a persistent and high gender wage gap

3. The majority of women are employed in vulnerable jobs with limited access to benefits and social protection.

4. Gender gaps in education have been declining but educational attainment of women continues to lag behind that of men.

5. Large numbers of highly-educated women remain unemployed.

Institutional barriers

6. Continued presence of gender discriminatory customary laws in certain ASEAN countries. All ASEAN countries provide constitutional equality between men and women.

7. Limited effectiveness of gender mainstreaming.

8. Due to cultural norms women are disadvantaged in acquiring land and assets and this is mirrored in discriminatory laws.

9. Women contribute substantially to economic welfare through large amounts of unpaid work, such as child-rearing and household tasks, which often remains unseen and unaccounted for in national income

10. Lack of clarity in key labour laws relating to equal remuneration, discrimination and maternity benefits contributes to women’s relative weaker position in the labour market.

READ: Taking an active role in the #ASEAN2017

Promote women’s participation in specific ASEAN priority sectors

The ASEAN has been supportive in advancing the status of women in the region. Gender equality and women’s empowerment is part of integral principles in the ASEAN community’s building process. The study recommends targeted policies to promote women’s participation in specific ASEAN priority sectors.

Opportunities for women in technology

Now that I have laid down the challenges and the recommended policies, I want to tackle specific opportunities for women with at least a college education that they can take action today. There are 66 million women in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia doing business online.  But there are also those that do not have work. Gina Romero of  Connected Women says 5 million women in the Philippines are not working due to family reasons. There is a huge potential to empower women who have online access.

Like I said earlier, four out of five women would rather go into business. There are opportunities in technology. The ASEAN  ICT Masterplan  of 2020 , ” brings ASEAN towards a digitally enabled economy and women should prepare themselves with the knowledge to work at home. I know of a lot of mothers here in the Philippines who work at home and are financially independent . Here are some opportunities that are open to women in the ASEAN.

Virtual assistants or writing services: There are mothers who work at home as virtual assistants or as writer.  The standards for Virtual assistants and writing services require high precision and skills . But who is to say one cannot learn these skills?  There are businesses like Connected Women  matches women entrepreneurs with Filipina virtual assistants (VAs).  There are many online websites that give resources on how to be a virtual assistant or start a VA business.

Online Small and medium enterprises (SME) academy: This brings me to the discussion on  women empowerment. If one does not have the skills in technology, there is the  online ASEAN SME academy, which provides online access to training and resources specifically developed and tailored to meet the needs of Small and Medium Enterprises operating in ASEAN. There are courses for startup, ready to export and growing enterprises. Course types are into finance/accounting, human resources, marketing, management, operations, technology, and trade /logistics

For the Philippines: Check out the materials here.

For Lao People Democratic Republic (PDR): Check out the materials here.

For Indonesia: Check out the materials here.

For Cambodia: Check out the materials here
Mutual recognition arrangements (MRAs)  are on seven areas:  Engineering services;  Nursing services, Architectural services, Dental practitioners, Medical practitioners, Tourism professionals, and Accountancy services. Of the seven MRAs , only the tourism MRA provides for automatic recognition of professional credentials. The problem though is that full implementation has yet to be realized.  Young women can start planning about their future by checking on these career opportunities. In a few years or by 2025, the full implementation of the MRAs will be realized.

Parents and schools should encourage our young girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) as this  would help in narrowing gender wage gap in ASEAN.

“As technology further allows women to work while they remain to be the light of their homes for their families, the more that we need to urge young girls of today to seek the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics,” said Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Undersecretary Nora Terrado.

There is the ASEAN University Network (AUN),  an arrangement between 30 + universities in the ten ASEAN countries, where your children can cross-enroll for other courses in college. 

What future can our children look forward to? Of course, there is the future of the Philippines and then there is the ASEAN, our community, our future.  The ASEAN is at the heart of Asia and feels so close to home. As a mother, I have always been open to opportunities for my children whether here or abroad.  Well, my children took such opportunities to work abroad .  One of them works in the ASEAN region.

So, for moms with kids in high school and college, do you want to find out what opportunities there are for your children especially in the ASEAN region?

The role of  education is important in promoting a better quality of life for children and young people, and in providing them with an opportunity to participate in and benefit from the realization of a prosperous ASEAN Community 2025.  Universities in the ASEAN are working on providing more opportunities for student exchanges within the region, credit transfer systems and improving quality assurance mechanisms.

Mula sa Masa, Volume 2 Issue 1

Wouldn’t you want your children to take advantage of these opportunities and help achieve the vision of the ASEAN community in 2025?

There is the ASEAN University Network (AUN),  an arrangement between 30 + universities in the ten ASEAN countries, where your children can cross-enroll for other courses in college.

ASEAN Higher education

The idea for such AUN “stems from the 4th ASEAN Summit of 1992. In that Summit, it was agreed that ASEAN member countries must work to promote cooperation by enhancing awareness of ASEAN among the people in the region through the expansion of ASEAN studies as part of Southeast Asian Studies in university curricula and the introduction of ASEAN student exchange programs; to help develop a regional identity and solidarity; and to promote human resource development in the region. The original intent was to establish an ASEAN university, but it was ultimately decided that a network of existing universities would be more feasible.”

AUN even developed the Asean credit transfer system. The system allows students to check online to find which courses will be accredited by their home universities.  If you are a student from the University of the Philippines, De La Salle, Ateneo de University or UST, check out the academic calendar and the procedure to apply. (Download the AUN-ACTS student manual)

ASEAN Higher education

ASEAN Higher education

ASEAN Higher education

ASEAN Higher education

The online application is easy to use. Just check the courses offered in the ASEAN member state university and  select desired category as follows.

Undergraduate student exchange
 graduate student exchange
 Credit earning/short programme

For example, when I searched under Singapore > National University of Singapore (NUS), I discovered that the university only has the Undergraduate Student Exchange.

These are the minimum requirements to apply for AUN Student Exchange Program under ACTS scheme:

1. Enrolled as a degree student at one of AUN (ASEAN University Network) member universities

2. Have completed at least two academic semesters at home university

3. Have good academic standings at home university

4. Have good English proficiency in both speaking and writing

5. Have great interest to learn cultural diversity of ASEAN countries

With the vision of an ASEAN Community in 2025, parents need to acknowledge the critical importance of higher education as one of the catalysts in accelerating ASEAN’s economic, political and sociocultural development agenda  . Let’s start with our children.

ASEAN community is our community , too.


Updated  August 7, 2017: I first wrote this last May . I  updated this blog post to add the media accreditation for the ASEAN 50th anniversary celebration 

Some of you have probably noticed I’ve been tweeting a lot about ASEAN 2017 since January this year. It is part of my work as senior consultant for the Committee on Media Affairs and Strategic Communications, led by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO). Finally, the first big event , the ASEAN 30th Summit and Related Meetings finally happened. This is it!

Before I write about my views on the statements released by ASEAN , let me share my experience covering the summit.

asean 30th summit

Read my other articles on ASEAN:

ASEAN beyond 50: What does the future hold for the youth?

“This is our future” – the school children at the ASEAN School Tour

Opportunities and challenges of women in the ASEAN

10 opportunities and benefits for the citizens in ASEAN

Opportunities for your children in the ASEAN

Sharing my social media experience at the 1st ASEAN Social Media Strategy Meeting

The Philippines as ASEAN Chair: Six thematic priorities

The ASEAN community 2025 vision: What is in it for me?

ASEAN, a region of opportunities for the citizens 

It’s my first time as a blogger  to cover an international event. I applied for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders’ Meeting held on 18–19 November 2015 in Manila but it was revoked at the last minute.  Don’t look at me.

Asean information booth

This time around, bloggers got accredited to cover the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) 30th Summit. The thing is, I could not cover the meetings just like the rest of the media due to security reasons and also because we were more than 1,400 . There was an information channel, email blast , international broadcast center, and press releases . Nothing beats being right there at  an event and I will get to that experience in a bit.

Media Accreditation

Like the past media accreditation for ASEAN , I had to sign up at the website. The registration is buggy. I had to repeat the process all over again and then I get this duplicate record

As to the agency I represent, I put Blog Watch and wrote a letter of request which I needed to be attached in the form. Within 24 hours, I received a confirmation.

READ MORE: Jane’s post on What is all this ado about bloggers at #ASEAN2017?

READ MORE: Sonnie’s post on recent media accreditation of bloggers and other issues.

READ MORE: Juned’s post Asean and Social Media Coverage

The International Media Center

The International Media Center was something new for me.

Main Briefing Room.

Bloggers (Left to right) Jane , Tess Termulo and Marvin Germo

Fortunately, those without laptops had desktops for their use at the main briefing room.  Each table had a charging station for our gadgets.

asean 30th summit

Bloggers at the main briefing room at the ASEAN 30th Summit (Left to right): Ace Gapuz, Sonnie Santos, Mark Macanas, Tess Termulo and Jane Uymatiao

The social media lounge was for everyone to use , especially for those that didn’t bring their laptops…or when their laptops died from overuse.

Social media corner

It was the place to chit-chat, sip coffee  and socialize as the main briefing room is meant for writing in peace and quiet.

READ : Notes on ASEAN Summit 2017, Part I: My Personal Story

bloggers at the social media lounge

The  RFID card was or the Radio-Frequency IDentification is so cool. I think everyone stopped to get their photo taken. Awesome, isn’t it?

The social media coverage

One needed to sign up at the Information desk for Pool Coverage . I was fortunate to get a slot to take photos till the Opening statement of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting .

A van took the photographers and social media practitioners like myself from the Pool Waiting area to the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).  The thing is I don’t carry huge gadgets like those professional DSLR and a step ladder so I am told to step back to give way to them.

This is why my photo of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers is not taken from the center. Hmm, maybe I should bring my humongous DSLR next time just so I get a better view.

The iPhone7 Plus has an excellent  zoom feature so I managed to get a shot of Acting Foreign Secretary Manalo in his Opening Statement.

The ASEAN foreign ministers released a statement shortly after their meeting.

“ASEAN is mindful that instability in the Korean Peninsula seriously impacts the region and beyond.”

What a strong statement but silent on China?

There was limited media slots for the Opening Ceremony but if I got an invitation , I could cover it. As a guest of the the Opening Ceremony of the ASEAN 30th Summit, one needed an invitation. I was lucky to get an invite just the night before April 29 from my friends at PCOO .

A shuttle  brought us to the International Media Center to PICC.

Yes, it felt like a fiesta with all the dancers at the lobby.

Everyone had to be inside the PICC by 9:00 AM even if the Opening Ceremony would start  at 10:30 AM.  I understand all these security precautions for the sake of our  10 Asean leaders and even for us, the audience.

I was early enough because the shuttle took me there around 7:30 AM.

The President then delivered his Opening Statement where he emphasized the importance of unity, solidarity, and cooperation among the ASEAN member states.

What stood out is that ASEAN leaders be resolute in achieving a drug-free ASEAN which I hope puts an end to killings and that the drug lords are caught  and charged.

Before the family photo was taken, the ASEAN spirit was sung accompanied by a beautiful dance number. I took this live on facebook and a lot of viewers enjoyed the scene. With my left hand on my iPhone taking the video , I used my right hand to take photos. Notice the shakiness of my live video. It still got a modest number of hits .

This is such a historical moment for me, seeing all the 10 ASEAN leaders.

The ASEAN family photo

The Opening ceremony was pretty  quick but I still had to wait for the press conference by President Duterte . It is my first press conference with a President . Only 150 who signed up got access.

The press conference schedule was  at 7:10 PM but by 5:00 PM, we were brought to the PICC holding area. One line was formed for reporters while the other line for photographers and videographers before we could walk out towards the PICC Meeting room.

The bloggers got a good position just a row behind the seats assigned to the government officials.

The President arrived late , and was probably tired but he mustered to say in jest, “Anak ka ng… Kung ganito lang ang summit, kanselado na ‘yung sa November (If summits are like this, then let’s just cancel the one in November)”

The President then  read a prepared statement but he seemed eager  for the questions from the media. He appeared to be in high spirits with the press that  Saturday night, “even joking that the media should have been invited to the gala dinner with ASEAN leaders and other dignitaries.”

Here is a video of the press conference:

His guests at the Gala dinner were waiting for him so he cut short his press conference . We only had 30 minutes. He had already left the podium but went back to announce that women can have their photos taken with him.

“I am not trying to be a show-off, but I’ve noticed that after every conference, a lot of mostly women would want to have a picture with me. Women, come up and we’ll have the pictures”

I thought he was kidding.  Of course, I wanted a photo with the President. For Prosperity’s sake just as I had the chance with four past Philippine presidents. (The next day , I was surprised our selfies  got featured on page 4 of the Philippine Inquirer)

Lastly ,  not all media got the same giveaways and bag . An Inquirer reporter made such a big deal out of it.   There was another bag distributed to “others” and no phone was in it. Instead, a USB charging/power port was in the bag along with a  notebook and pen, dried mangoes, utility bag and a bamboo speaker. PCOO explains the giveaways in a press statement.

I will write a commentary   about the issues raised at the ASEAN 30th Summit

  1. Why was ASEAN silent about the “the subject of China’s  reclamation activities and military build up in the disputed South China Sea”? (Update: Our Blogwatch article on the South China Sea)
  2.  The Chairman’s statement 30th ASEAN Summit .
  3. The budget for the Philippine hosting.

The controversial  issues left behind by the ASEAN summit  are disappointing but, I must say the Philippine hosting is a success. No major security threat while the delegates and leaders were in our country. The small successes of Asean  include the Philippines and Indonesia allowing a roll-on, roll-off (Roro) vessel route from Davao to General Santos then to Bitung, Indonesia, which cuts the trip from two to three weeks to one or two days. There is much room for improvement in the media access especially for bloggers . But let’s take a look at the last two paragraphs of the President’s opening speech  that look at the positives.

Let us remember: ASEAN has a compelling narrative of positive change [that] we can hold up to the world. Through our distinct ASEAN way, our region – with all its promise – stands at the center of the future of the Asia-Pacific region.

Let us with brave hearts and firm mind resolve to do all we can to make all our aspirations a reality. [This] will be the lasting legacy of ASEAN not just for our peoples but for the whole world.

Each one of us play a part in the vision of ASEAN.

Covering the 50th anniversary celebration

by Carla Jenina Lizardo

My best friend Janina and I decided to go to Hanoi on a whim. Within five days we booked our flights and a Ha Long Bay cruise with a lot of excitement, not really knowing what to expect. Upon landing and getting into our cab, I remember being impressed by the wide roads leading out of the airport. “Vietnam is a lot more modern than I thought!” I noted to Janina. Our driver then turned a corner and entered the Old Quarter, which was where we were staying. Observing from the car window, the roads were suddenly a lot smaller and the buildings were distinctly closer together. There was a variety of small food stalls, hotels done up in traditional architecture, coffee shops and so much more. It was a complete contrast from our initial impression, and infinitely more asean story

Our first day was dedicated to exploring the Old Quarter. We felt a lot of apprehension because we didn’t know where to go and there were scooters everywhere! It took us a while to realize that you should just cross as the motorists will adjust to you. All you have to do is take the first step. Our hotel concierge guided us to a restaurant nearby called Highway 4, where we enjoyed passion fruit chicken, salt and pepper beef and catfish spring rolls. It was love at first bite. We also had several other memorable meals – banh mi from Minh Nhat Masterchef which we enjoyed while walking around the Hoan Kiem Lake, as well as crab rolls from the vendor at the corner of our hotel. Its hard to go wrong with Vietnamese food.

my asean story

Aside from the food, another interesting thing about Hanoi is that there are travel agencies everywhere. So if you get there without having an itinerary, you have nothing to worry about because it is ridiculously easy to get someone to help you plot out any tour you might want to experience. We booked our Ha Long Bay cruise in advance, but we checked out some of the other tours anyway. There are so many other beautiful places that you can get to from Hanoi, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to book another tour.

hanoi asean story

The next day, it was time to head to Ha Long Bay. We booked a 3 day 2 night tour with Pelican Halong Pelican cruises, which included a round trip van transfer as well. Upon boarding the traditional junk boat, we were treated to a mouthwatering Vietnamese lunch buffet. What a treat it was to enjoy delicious pho while looking out towards the crystal blue waters and stunning limestone formations! The view was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, hands down. Afterwards, we were allowed to kayak and swim around so that we could see the isles up close. Some other cruise activities included spring roll making, squid fishing and historical video viewing. We made sure to take part in everything in order to make the most out of our experience. Of course, we also spent a lot of time relaxing on the boat’s sunbeds in order to enjoy the sights and sounds of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

hanoi asean story

On our last day in Hanoi, we were determined to try Vietnamese egg coffee or ca phe trung. Based on our research, only three coffee shops still served the traditional drink. We spent a good hour walking around the city and was on the verge of giving up when we finally stumbled upon Pho Co Coffee. It wasn’t easy to find at all. To get to the cafe, you had to pass through a shop selling clothes to get to an alleyway that opens up to the first floor. That’s where the cashier is located, and its also where you order your coffee. You then have to climb three flights of stairs in order to get to the seats overlooking the Hoan Kiem Lake. Once the coffee was served, we forgot all about the struggles of getting there. Creamy, sweet and delicious – the ca phe trung was definitely worth the effort.

That pretty much sums up our Hanoi trip. On the surface, it was intimidating and chaotic. But once you immerse yourself into the experience – you are rewarded with delicious food, culture and beautiful views. I left knowing that there are still so many things to discover and I can’t wait until I can head back.

(Submitted for the #MyAseanStory blog writing project )

My Asean Story

Sophia Reyes, Philippines

I was born and raised in the Philippines (PH), and growing up I was blessed enough to have travelled to a couple of countries with my family. In 2010, however, I was granted a very rare opportunity to do my internship overseas with a multi-national giant. Hence, in October 2010, I took my first solo flight out of the country and went to Singapore (SG) for my 7-month internship.

My colleagues were so sweet during my last day – they threw me a surprise farewell!

Prior to that flight, I had never been to SG and I had no idea what it was like. Everything about the country was new to me. I must say, most people love the food and shopping there, but what struck me the most was the efficiency of EVERYTHING. For one, you only need ONE card to function as your ATM, debit card, and transport card. Also, almost everything can be done online. How awesome is that? It was so easy and convenient to settle in, even for an 19-year-old like me. It goes without saying I enjoyed my time in SG – it taught me a lot about life, work, and everything in between.

When I returned to the Philippines in mid 2011, I had 2 more years to finish my Engineering degree. During that time, the Philippine subsidiary of the MNC I worked in took me in as a part-time intern for over a year. When I finally finished my degree in 2013, I was fortunate enough as the SG subsidiary welcomed me back. Yay!

At this point, I already knew what I needed to settle in SG, so I gave myself a week prior to start of work to get my affairs in order (a.k.a. find a place to stay at). The same day I landed, I started getting in touch with numerous property agents, and by my 2nd day there I was already doing viewings. One agent in particular asked me out right after our viewing, and even the days after that. I had a lot of time on my hands, so I thought, why not?

My agent-turned-boyfriend. Boy, did we move fast.

Little did I know, 4 days later we’d be a thing. I remember telling my friends something like “Guys, I’m not quite sure what happened – I think I just got into a relationship.”

“What?! Were you hacked?!”

“Girl we’re not even done mourning you leaving us yet!”

“Are you high?!”

Well, we’ve been together since ???? We were able to explore SG, and even went on a couple of trips to Manila. During those trips, I remember him saying he’d love to move there someday, which frankly I won’t mind at all. After all, PH is home <3

Our ASEAN adventures (clockwise from top-left): (1) Whenever SG had haze, we had to go out for dinner wearing these masks, (2) watched our first concert together – my all-time favorite Jason Mraz, (3) surprise countdown to midnight for my birthday, (4) sneaky wefie after getting rushed to the ER for fainting in the middle of the street, (5) day trip to Taal Volcano on one of our Manila trips, (6) BKK: that time the Filipina flew in from SG and the Singaporean flew in from PH.

In early 2016, he moved to Cambodia (KH) to pursue business. Video calls and messaging became our regular thing, but we decided we’d meet halfway in Bangkok (BKK) whenever we could. I must have taken at least 5 flights to Bangkok within the first half of that year! Towards Q3 though, he needed me to help out in his ventures, and we decided it would be better not to have to take flights to see each other. Hence, towards the end of 2016, I embraced the concept of YOLO, left my corporate job, and moved to BKK!

I’ve been here since then, out of the corporate world (my boyfriend’s my boss now ????) and learning Thai language full time.

Leaving corporate life meant leaving these crazy fun people. But then again, YOLO.

We’re celebrating our 4th anniversary soon, and we have yet to decide which ASEAN country to settle in. For the record, I’m a Filipina who loves SG, and he’s a Singaporean who loves PH. We both like BKK though, so we juuust might stay here. Who knows?


(Submitted for the #MyAseanStory blog writing project )


my asean story

1. Home can be anywhere in the world.

I first went to Singapore in 1997. I was six years old and my dad, my siblings and I tagged along since my mom had to fly there for work. There’s not much I remember from the trip but I must’ve loved it since I’ve been there more than five times after that. Whether it’s just a half-day layover or an entire week’s stay, Singapore taught me that I can feel at home anywhere in the world that I decide to love.


2. You can find friends anywhere.

Years before I met fellow travelers in hostels, I learned about the importance of being friendly watching my father haggle in Bangkok. He was given a fifty percent discount for a polo shirt after he talked about Manny Pacquiao to a Thai vendor at the weekend market. Even if there was nothing to gain, he’d smile at people in the train or begin a conversation with our cab drivers.


3. Try not to romanticize things.

Before flying to Kuala Lumpur, I saw the Petronas Towers in a local movie. Watching the film made me more excited about the trip and seeing the twin skyscrapers for myself. When I finally got there, I realized that situations are not as ideal as they seem in documentaries, movies, postcards, photos, blogs and magazines. Finding the perfect place to take a photo was challenging, and not going at the right time of day or year will leave you drenched in sweat and haggard-looking in photos. With the right disposition, however, you’ll gain rich memories and good stories to tell.


4. When it’s love, you’ll know it.

My first out-of-the-country travel with friends was to Ho Chi Minh. If you want to know how much I enjoyed it, know that I’ve returned to Vietnam for two birthdays after that. The culture, the energy, the coffee, and the food draw me in with each visit. I can’t wait to go back on my next birthday.


5. Going solo is sometimes necessary.

My friends and I planned a trip to Bali. I have Indonesian friends based in Jakarta and I didn’t want to go to the country without seeing them so I flew to the capital first. Though I spent many hours of the day with friends, not having companions in the flights allowed me to talk to strangers and staying in a hostel gained me a couple of new friends. Aside from meeting people, the peace and freedom that go with being alone are highs I’ve began looking for since then.


6. Minimizing can enrich your life.

Time travel would be the most apt description for my trip to Yangon and Bagan. The architecture, the absence of Uber and Waze, and the overall vibe just made me feel like I was living in a different era. I loved every bit of it. It was great not having to rely on technology to get to places, it was interesting hearing screeches in the railway because the trains were so old, and it was mind-blowing that telegram there was a system, and not a messaging app. I felt that all those allowed me to be fully present in each experience.


7. Be ready for detours.

Having grown up with my mom and older sister fixing itineraries for our trips, it was a bit of a challenge when I had to do it for me and my friends. A lapse in judgment made me decide to go on a day trip to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap. Luck seemed far when our bus broke down midway and we didn’t make it to the museums we planned on visiting. Even without a change of clothes, we decided that it was more practical to stay the night so we could see a bit of the city the following morning. Instead of sulking at the misfortune, we looked for a cheap hostel, bought toiletries, looked for good food and ended the night with drinks. I loved that we still saw the museums I wanted to go to, shared interesting conversations with people we met and had an unforgettable 24 hours in Cambodia’s capital.


8. The road less travelled will gain you experiences not people get to have.

This seems like a no-brainer but I was affirmed of this during a short trip to Brunei. An irresistible promo fare led my best friend and I to the small country. One trip allowed us to appreciate and understand Islam, eat amazing versions of food we’ve tried in Thailand and Indonesia, and get to know about fellow Filipinos who’ve decided to work and live there. Our Muslim tour guide also became a good friend whom we’re still in touch with today.


9. Nurturing your sense of adventure is essential.

Laos is the only ASEAN country that I haven’t visited yet. I have no flights booked to date but I hope to make the trip by next year. This early, I already know that I want to swim in the Kuang Si Falls, go temple hopping, meditate in a monastery, and see the sunset over the Mekong River. Having been to the nine other countries have taught me that there’ll always be something to do, someone to meet and somewhere to be. I can’t wait to find out what that country has in store for me.


10. Have a home base.

I love travelling and I see myself doing it for many more years to come. It has enriched my life in many ways but I know, deep in me, that there will never be a place like home. I’ll always find myself booking that return flight to the Philippines.

(Submitted for the #MyAseanStory blog writing project )

Updated: June 6, announcement of winners

Updated : extended to June 5, 2017 for last day of submission 

Each of us has a story on ASEAN. An ASEAN story is a travel story, a rights story, a labor story, a business story, a political story.” The story touches  parents,  students,  professionals, farmers , laborers, and every ASEAN citizen. The blog writing project “My ASEAN Story” is open to bloggers worldwide who  want to share their personal story . You can post it on your blogging platform and get a chance to win an ASEAN memorabilia. (See mechanics below the post)

Winners of the #MyAseanStory Blog Writing Project

Our Asean love story

Ten life lessons I’ve learned from visiting ASEAN countries

Getting lost is not a bad thing at all.

The top 3 winners will receive an ASEAN backpack while the rest will get an ASEAN themed notebook with a foldable backpack. Please contact me at noemidado @ on how to get your prizes.

Here are the submissions:

Some realizations during the SEABA Championship

Our Hanoi trip & enjoying the sights and sounds of a UNESCO World Heritage Site

My Asean life story :  Business in the hands of John and Vonny Oei

Takeaways from Studying in Singapore

Our Asean love story

Ten life lessons I’ve learned from visiting ASEAN countries

Silip sa Siem Reap (A glimpse of Siem Reap)

Getting lost is not a bad thing at all.

My Heart is Rooted in the Philippines

Kuala Lumpur: 16 months later 


This is my story.

The ASEAN is at the heart of Asia  and feels so close to home. What comes  to your mind when you hear about ASEAN? I bet  most of you are grateful about the  visa-free travel in the 10 Southeast Asian countries. I have traveled  to eight ASEAN member states except for Brunei and Myanmar .  Food and travel go hand in hand.   Yes, “food is the centerpiece  with many ASEAN societies sharing a common passion for food as a social get-together activity”.  Beyond travel and food,  an invitation to attend the 1st ASEAN Social Media Strategy Meeting in Jakarta in 2011 totally changed my life.

my asean story

Being there with other social media personalities in the ASEAN region was a learning experience. The sharing meant also an exchange of ideas that can be also replicated in my sphere of influence. What did I share? There is no secret to SOCIAL MEDIA except to listen, connect, share and engage and be passionate about the topics shared.

my asean story

The informal meeting also inspired me to consider writing more about the ASEAN instead of just concentrating on Philippine issues. The progress in ASEAN integration and the ongoing community building efforts is something that everyone should know. I gained a lot of basic understanding of what ASEAN meant as a region of opportunities.

my asean story

I would have never known about Asean opportunities and benefits if I didn’t attend this conference and the 2nd social media exchange in Bangkok . Our participation in the 2011 and 2013 social media exchange  led to the ASEAN secretariat being more active on twitter and facebook.  My awareness on ASEAN is not anymore limited to politics or the visa-free travel benefits but that ASEAN is one big community with a vision for 2025.

I am more involved in social media by raising awareness for ASEAN which is part of my work as Senior Consultant for the ASEAN 2017 Committee on Media Affairs and Strategic Communications (CMASC). The looks of hope from the students and citizens during the ASEAN roadshows and school tours inspire me to continue to promote the  opportunities and benefits for the citizens in ASEAN .

my asean story

I know you , too, have a personal story on ASEAN as a student, a mother, a tourist, an entrepreneur, a teacher or even as a blogger… and I hope you can share it through your blog.

I am holding a blog writing project and a chance to win an ASEAN memorabilia. Here are the   guidelines:

1. The contest is open to all bloggers worldwide.
2. Follow  @asean2017 on twitter or
3. Write a blog post of your own personal story with a minimum of 500 words on the theme #MyAseanStory” and post it on your blog platform (self-hosted blog, facebook, tumblr, wordpress)

  • What are your life experiences: challenges , great memories?

I will even share it on my social networks.
4. Use the hashtag #MyAseanStory #Asean2017 when sharing your post in social media.
5. Contest will start May 9 and end May 31, 2017. Cut off of entries is 11:59 PM on May 31, 2017. (Update extended June 5 11:59pm)
6. The post that is creative and interesting will receive an ASEAN memorabilia

The top three winners will get this beautiful blue backpack with Asean goodies inside 

Inside the ASEAN backpack

12 will receive an ASEAN themed notebook with pen plus an ASEAN foldable backpack

A total of 15 winners will get these awesome prizes.

7.  A team of bloggers will select the 15 winning blog entries. Winners will be announced on June 3, 2017

So,  have fun, get your creative juice flowing, and share your ASEAN story.

my asean story

Here are the submissions:

Some realizations during the SEABA Championship

Our Hanoi trip & enjoying the sights and sounds of a UNESCO World Heritage Site

My Asean life story :  Business in the hands of John and Vonny Oei

Takeaways from Studying in Singapore

Our Asean love story

Ten life lessons I’ve learned from visiting ASEAN countries

Silip sa Siem Reap (A glimpse of Siem Reap)

Getting lost is not a bad thing at all.

My Heart is Rooted in the Philippines

Kuala Lumpur: 16 months later 

The ASEAN school tour is one of the many ways to raise awareness of what the ASEAN community means in the lives of our children.

What future can our children look forward to? Of course, there is the future of the Philippines and then there is the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), our community, our future. The ASEAN is at the heart of Asia and feels so close to home.

READ: Opportunities for your children in the ASEAN

As part of my work in the ASEAN 2017 awareness campaign, I get to cover ASEAN School tours. So far , I have covered Iloilo , Mandaue and Cebu City. I really enjoy being with the school children.  Everywhere I go, the children are so eager to learn more about ASEAN. There is so much energy as they raise their flag and sing “The Asean way”. The kids sing the ASEAN anthem after the National Anthem. It is a beautiful song.

Raise our flag high, sky high
Embrace the pride in our heart
ASEAN we are bonded as one
Look-in out-ward to the world.
For peace, our goal from the very start
And prosperity to last.
We dare to dream we care to share.
Together for ASEAN
we dare to dream,
We care to share,
For it’s the way of ASEAN

The ASEAN Way is the official anthem of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It has  a poignant tone to it especially if sung by the children. Listen to the video below that I took at the Mandaue City Central School.

 The ASEAN Anthem is an expression of ASEAN unity. It also strengthens the sense of ASEAN identity and belonging among the peoples of the region so singing it brings a sense of community.

Let me share what happens at a school tour.

In every school tour, you will catch the children raise their flags with glee. I ask the kids if they knew the 10 countries by heart . Oh yes, they do.

Asean school tour in Iloilo City

There is Kuya Karl to the kids. He is the energetic host of the ASEAN fun games where he teaches the kids  how to say “Thank You” in 10 different languages of the ASEAN member states and other fun trivia.

Kuya Karl of PCOO – ASEAN hosts the fun trivia games

It is a joy to watch the kids follow Kuya Karl as he pronounces some of the tongue twisting “Thank yous”. I am learning too.

How to say thank you in the 10 languages in ASEAN?

Tell me , do you know how to say ‘Thank you” in Vietnamese? Well, I learned it is Cam on[kárm ern] or saying “thank you” in Burmese?

Its “kyaayyjuutainpartaal”. Can you even pronounce that? You can ask Kuya Karl to help you with that. After these school tours, I will master all the “thank yous” with the right accent.

Asean school tour in Cebu City Sports Complex with 1200 students

You can see the kids are never bored. All ears are focused on the engaging ways to learn about Asean.

Ana  (not her real name) takes down notes from the lessons she picked up from the trivia game.

Where are the 10 countries in ASEAN ?

The children mastered their geography by identifying the countries on the map. They also learned the three pillars of the ASEAN Community comprised of three pillars: the Political-Security Community, Economic Community and Socio-Cultural Community and the ASEAN 2017 theme (Partnering for Change, Engaging the World) in this multiple choice game.

READ: 10 opportunities and benefits for the citizens in ASEAN

The school tour is also one way for the children to feel this dream of an ASEAN community.

“Together for ASEAN
we dare to dream,
We care to share,
For it’s the way of ASEAN”.

YES, they said it well: “This is our future”.

READ: The Philippines as ASEAN Chair: Six thematic priorities


Participating schools at the school tour in Cebu City Sports complex were: Apas National High School, City Central Elementary and High School, Mabolo Elementary and High School, Zapatera Elementary, Don Vicente Rama Elementary and High School, Abellana National High School, Asian College of Technology, Cebu Normal University, Cebu Institute of Technology-University, University of Cebu, University of San Carlos and University of Southern Philippines Foundation.

 I aspire to spread awareness, interest and advocacy of what ASEAN can bring for our children’s future and how it benefits citizens in the ASEAN.

aspire asean awareness

My goals in my prime time years is to be productive, continue to learn, and educate myself to new career paths. To aspire to be the best that I can be. No one is ever too old to grab opportunities.  You must have read my post on  my involvement  with the year long activities of the Association of South East Asian Nations or ASEAN 2017 summit as Senior Consultant for ALL Media Engagement under the PCOO led Committee on Media Affairs and Strategic Communications (CMASC),  ASEAN National Organizing Council (NOC).  I have never been so busy in my life travelling all over the Philippines, covering the ASEAN roadshows or school tours.

aspire asean awareness

I find my ASEAN work so relevant  not only for the Philippines but for the rest of the nine ASEAN member states.  It is my goal to spread awareness and advocacy of what ASEAN can do for our children’s future.  Megawati Sukarnoputri , the daughter of Sukarno, said that “the future of our country lies in the hands of today’s children which is why the duty of ensuring our children’s future not only lies in the hands of their parents, but society as well.”  Giving kids a bright future is  ASEAN’s responsibility . Since January, I have been part of the ASEAN CMASC campaign to spread awareness and educate the public about the ASEAN. Our objective is to let every Filipino and ASEAN citizen know what their stake is in the Community.


I love what I do and I will continue to aspire to be the best I can to spread awareness to our ASEAN citizens. You might also want to read my article on the 10 opportunities and benefits for citizens in the ASEAN. I also have written about Opportunities for your children in the ASEAN.

So far my travels have brought me to Davao, Pampanga, Baguio, Boracay, Cebu and Iloilo.

asean awareness

ASEAN launch and ASEAN -PCOO roadshow

During the first event as the Chair of ASEAN, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte opened the important gathering with a speech that further discussed the theme  “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World.

Launch of the chairship of the ASEAN Socio cultural pillar in Pampanga

Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) aims to enhance efforts towards a “People-oriented, people-centered ASEAN.” 


ASEAN PCOO roadshow in Baguio

The attendance of the roadshow at the Elizabeth Hotel was so huge that the hashtag #ASEAN2017 trended from 9:00 AM till 1:00 PM with  its peak at number 2 at around 11:25 AM that February 3.

Covering ground activities of ASEAN Senior Officials’ Meeting in Boracay

Human rights were included in the the 23rd Meeting of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).  The following commemorative activities will be the Launch of the Regional Action Plan on Mainstreaming the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the ASEAN Community; AICHR Youth Debate on Human Rights; and 50th Anniversary Edition of the AICHR Booklet and Video.

ASEAN PCOO roadshow in Cebu and launch of the ASEAN Information Kiosks

The  roadshows also include the launch of the ASEAN information kiosks where  comics and other reading materials, written in different Philippine dialects are distributed free of charge.

ASEAN information kiosk at the Iloilo City Hall

17th ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Council (ASCC) Meeting and the school tours

In the Iloilo meeting, two key documents of ASEAN Leaders’ Declaration on the Role of Civil Service as Catalysts for Achieving the ASEAN Community Vision 2025, and the ASEAN Declaration for the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers will be submitted to the 30th ASEAN Summit to be held late April.

I am glad I have the gadgets and tools that I need to be mobile and efficient in the crafting of digital content on the event highlights and share it to my social media network such as twitter, facebook, Instagram , and LinkedIN. Though only 58% of the Filipinos are online ,  the combination of offline activities as well  online engagement will  allow citizens to understand how ASEAN benefits them. This way, no one is left behind as CMASC reach out to those without access to the Internet or traditional media.

acer aspire

I continue to aspire to raise ASEAN awareness on our campaign that speaks to everyone, from all walks of life– from government workers, media, NGOs, civil society, the academe, business sector, the youth and event the grassroots communities.

You might also want to read my article on the 10 opportunities and benefits for citizens in the ASEAN. I also have written about Opportunities for your children in the ASEAN and the  Six thematic priorities of the Philippines as ASEAN chair.