In a significant development, the Philippines has unveiled its plans to propose the creation of a regulatory framework for artificial intelligence (AI) within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The proposal, based on the Philippines’ own draft legislation, aims to establish rules and guidelines for the ethical and responsible use of AI technology in the region. This initiative comes as part of the Philippines’ commitment to digitization and cybersecurity and is set to be presented when the country chairs the ASEAN bloc in 2026.
A gift to ASEAN from the Philippines
Martin Romualdez, Speaker of the Philippines’ Congress, announced the country’s intention to contribute a legal framework as a “gift” to the ASEAN member nations. He emphasized the importance of digitization and cybersecurity in the country’s economic policies, noting that they are top priorities. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Romualdez stated, “Alongside that is cybersecurity, and the concomitant concerns and issues as generative artificial intelligence, a field that needs a lot of support and regulation. We feel that in ASEAN, we can capitalize and optimize these developments, but within a framework of regulatory support for this.”
Global race for AI regulation
The race to develop comprehensive regulations for artificial intelligence is underway globally. Generative AI, in particular, has garnered both excitement and concern due to its potential to reshape various industries. As AI continues to advance, governments and organizations are grappling with the need to establish guidelines that ensure responsible AI development and use.
Challenges in ASEAN region
The proposed regulatory framework could face challenges within the ASEAN region, which comprises nearly 700 million people and ten countries with diverse rules governing various aspects, including censorship, intellectual property, misinformation, social media, and internet usage. The differing regulatory environments make it essential to create a cohesive approach to AI regulation that accommodates the unique needs and concerns of each member nation.
Contrasting approaches within ASEAN
The Philippines’ proposal stands in contrast to the approach taken by some ASEAN member states so far. A draft of an ASEAN “guide to AI ethics and governance” surfaced in October, highlighting a more business-friendly approach to AI regulation. This voluntary guide is intended to reduce the compliance burden on organizations and foster innovation in the region, as noted by some technology executives.
Significance for the Philippines
For the Philippines, legislation on generative AI holds particular significance due to its critical business process outsourcing (BPO) sector, which is currently facing significant challenges. Romualdez emphasized the vulnerability of this sector and the need for transformation and upskilling of personnel to support generative AI. He stated, “It’s a very vulnerable sector in a very, very bright industry today. But we see a transformation of personnel and upskilling of these personnel to a level to support generative AI will be likely a very, very logical direction to take.”
Romualdez, who is a cousin of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., stressed the importance of the Philippine Congress’s role in crafting a legal framework that not only suits the Philippines but also aligns with the ASEAN’s needs. This collaborative effort seeks to establish a regulatory foundation that promotes responsible AI adoption, fosters innovation, and ensures cybersecurity across the region.
The Philippines’ proposal to introduce an AI regulatory framework within the ASEAN bloc reflects the growing importance of responsible AI governance in today’s digital age. As the region looks toward the future, finding common ground and developing guidelines for AI technology is essential to ensure that the potential benefits of AI are harnessed while addressing concerns related to its use. The coming years will be pivotal in shaping the regulatory landscape for AI in Southeast Asia, with the Philippines taking the lead in this endeavor.