“Policy making reflects our level of understanding and in the time of pandemic, a major epistemic failure will end up with larger ethical implications.” (Amartya Sen, 2020)
Earlier this year, the world is shaken by the emergence of the novel coronavirus 2019 or COVID-19. As per May 1, 2020, the virus has caused around 3,181,642 confirmed cases with 224,301 confirmed deaths and affected 215 countries all around the world (WHO, 2020). Reaction from countries may vary, but members of regional institutions then asked to create a regional measure to ensure that the virus will not cause more significant damage. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is no exception.
As of March 2020, some of ASEAN official meetings still took in place according to the ASEAN National Calendar 2020 (ASEAN Vietnam, 2020). Nonetheless, due to the sudden increasing number of cases in ASEAN countries, subsequent meetings then change their forms into online conferences, and around 200 meetings have been postponed or cancelled (Nguyen, 2020). This decision implies that all the focus at the regional level is currently concentrated on the handling and managing the outbreak. However, will that also mean to set aside all the works, specifically the effort on raising people awareness of ASEAN, for the sake of countermeasures? We think that it is not necessarily the case.
Starting from 2015, ASEAN reached another milestone with the launching of the ASEAN Community that ensure the vision of ASEAN’s founding fathers to improve the lives of their people embodied in the future development of ASEAN. The goal is to ensure that the improvements are reflected on the region’s economic and cultural development, social progress, regional peace and security, collaboration, mutual assistance in training and research, improvement of living standards, promotion of Southeast Asian studies and cooperation with regional and international organisations (ASEAN, 2015).
These vision put people at the centre of ASEAN’s vision and thus, making the awareness of people on ASEAN also very crucial. The more aware the people is about ASEAN, the more likely they will be able to take advantage of the programs and initiatives within ASEAN to improve their quality of lives. Also, ASEAN can provide more significant benefits to its people by tailoring the needs of its people into the design of programs and initiatives. Nevertheless, according to various studies, people’s awareness of ASEAN is varied among the ASEAN member states, and it depends on the efforts of each member states in raising awareness.
Raising awareness of people is not a goal that can be achieved in just one or several activities at a time. The efforts must be continuously carried out in order to bring the issue closer and encourage as well as train the people to find out the benefit for themselves. According to Sillari, social awareness is built on two elements, namely, knowledge and access shown by actions (Bonanno et al., 2008). Therefore, to raise the awareness level, the government of a state must provide these two elements in its campaign.
The latest poll conducted by the ASEAN in 2018 shows that although 100% of respondents from 10 ASEAN member states are aware of ASEAN as an organisation, less than two-fifths of them claim to know the ASEAN Community and its three pillars (ASEAN, 2018). Unfortunately, all the possible programs and initiatives that can be useful and utilised directly by the people are under these pillars, especially the socio-cultural pillar. Nonetheless, this shows that the knowledge provided by the current school curriculum might not be updated as to give elaboration for the ASEAN Community and its three pillars yet. Amidst the outbreak where everyone is suggested to change their usual way of direct communication and to use online platforms, there is no better time to maximise the campaign of ASEAN Awareness than now. Online studies curriculum can subsequently upgraded to cover comprehensive information on ASEAN Community. Various content on ASEAN plans and initiatives can be obtained easily on the official website of ASEAN. In addition, discussions and seminars on topics related to how ASEAN and its member states respond and handle COVID-19, best practices and lessons learned can also be outlined in webinars for both general and specific public, such as entrepreneurs, academics, or civil society organisations.
Furthermore, ASEAN plans and initiatives must become more accessible for every citizen of its members. An example can be seen in the migrant worker issue, especially in the time of COVID-19 pandemic crisis. From the mid of March, the government of Malaysia has implemented the regulation of movement control order (MCO). The regulation must be obeyed by the dwellers in Malaysia, both for locals and migrants. The regulation impacts on the movement of migrant workers there. New Straits Times (2020) reported that during the MCO, many Indonesian migrants were going hungry because they could not do their daily work activities. Many of them worked in Malaysia as construction workers, factory workers, waitresses, and janitors. Some people said that the Indonesian government should take the responsibility since they are the citizen of Indonesia, others thought that the Malaysian government is. In the time of the pandemic, however, it should not be a thing to debate over. Rather, it is time for both governments of Indonesia and Malaysia to work together, as ASEAN member states, to take the real action to help. Cooperation could be the best way to make people more aware of the existence of ASEAN, especially if the people then involved in the context of searching the best solution to the situation. This will create what Cooley once describes as a “we feeling,” awareness formed due to a comprehension of what is being done and also access in the form of direct involvement in it (Cooley, 1902).
Apart from that, consistent and continuous dissemination of information and real action about ASEAN is a necessity in increasing public awareness of ASEAN. Especially during this situation where any measures and help that can ease the effect of COVID-19 is needed. Since the outbreak affects the way we communicate and relate to others, efforts to disseminate information on ASEAN’s ongoing works must adjust accordingly. Delaying or stopping the ongoing efforts will not only nullify the efforts made, but also give a counterproductive impression that ASEAN is nothing more than forums for the elites to gather and talk about things that are of no benefit to the people. It is precisely in the current situation that ASEAN’s works in dealing with COVID-19 as well as in improving the quality of life of the people need to be echoed. (Faudzan Farhana and Irin Oktafiani)
C.H. Cooley, “Human Nature and the Social Order,” Charles Scribner’s Son, (1922).
Giacomo Sillari, “Models of Awareness” dalam Giacomo Bonanno, Wiebe van Der Hoek, dan Michael Wooldridge (eds) “Logic and the Foundation of Game and Decision Theory,” Amsterdam University Press, (2008): 209-240.