DAVAO CITY, Philippines – In recognizing the crucial roles of socio-cultural links and education in the promotion of greater understanding among diverse communities, the signing ministers of BIMP-EAGA recently agreed to explore socio-cultural and education as one of the strategic pillars of the ASEAN sub-region.

During the 18th BIMP-EAGA Ministerial Meeting held recently in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam, signing ministers from the sub-region stressed that socio-cultural activities can contribute to building strong foundation for greater understanding, good neighborliness, and a shared sense of responsibility.

BIMP-EAGA stands for Brunei Darussalam Indonesia Malaysia the Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area. The initiative was launched in 1994 as a key strategy to accelerate social and economic development of less developed areas in participating countries.

"Recognizing the important role of education in contributing to the establishment of an ASEAN Community that is people-centered and socially responsible, we agree to explore and promote cooperation among the higher learning institutions in developing academic and professional human resource in the sub-region," the ministers said in a joint statement that was released after the meeting.

The proposed socio-cultural and education pillar will become the fifth pillar of BIMP-EAGA with tourism, agribusiness, connectivity, and environment being the other four pillars of the sub-region. The Philippine delegation, headed by Mindanao Development Chair Luwalhati Antonino proposed the inclusion of the new pillar during the 18th Ministerial Meeting.

"This pillar is founded on the fact that BIMP-EAGA is a sub-regional family kept cohesive and firmly bonded by historical ties and geographic closeness," said Antonino while adding "the crosscutting facets of socio-cultural sharing forms the core for greater understanding."

She said that the inclusion of education in this pillar underscores the important of promoting knowledge sharing among students, young professionals, and faculty, as well skills improvement of workers within the sub-region.

A presentation of the top priorities of the new pillar will be done in April next year during the proposed BIMP-EAGA Leaders' Summit in Malaysia.

Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Dewa Dato Seri Setia Lim Jock Seng said the move to create the new pillar puts great emphasis on the human aspect of the sub-regional grouping.

"This is in line with the ASEAN's goal to become more people-centered, and demonstrates how BIMP-EAGA can look into cooperation that involves the youth," he added.

The new pillar also aims to explore and promote cooperation among higher learning institutions in developing academic and professional human resource in the sub-region.

Antonino said the past several and ongoing BIMP-EAGA socio-cultural activities range from sports competitions, food festivals, student exchanges and Boy Scouts jamboree are all aimed to strengthen the growth area's historical and cultural ties.

During the recently-concluded 2nd BIMP-EAGA and IMT-GT Trade Fair and Business Leaders' Conference here in the city, a side event on technical vocational education and training was conducted to intensify exchange of skills and human resources between Mindanao and its counterparts in the sub-region.

A partnership was also forged between the Palawan State University (PSU) - Philippines and Jesselton College - Kota Kinabalo in July this year to facilitate workplace industry placement and education programme exchanges between the neighboring states.

On Wednesday, a 122 Philippine contingent of young athletes and coaches from Mindanao and Palawan left for Labuan, Malaysia to participate in the 8th BIMP-EAGA Friendship games. The Philippine participation aims to strengthen cross-border links through sports with EAGA-member countries.

"We pushed for this pillar as our resolve to work towards people-oriented goals, and to form a socially-responsible EAGA community that will harness the human dimension of the sub-region," said Antonino.
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