We are so close to the much-talked-about ASEAN integration, scheduled to happen next year.

Even if you have not heard of it, chances are you may have felt its impact around you, such as the University of the Philippines’ moving the opening of classes from June to August this year to keep up with other universities in our neighboring countries.

Almost a year ago, US President Barack Obama launched here in Manila his signature program—the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), which encourages more young people from the ten member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to be part of an awesome network of young innovators with brilliant ideas.

Just this month in Myanmar, Obama announced the invitation of over 500 Southeast Asian young leaders to study in the United States under the YSEALI Academic and Professional Fellowships.

The hype about the imminent ASEAN integration has intensified, with YSEALI-sponsored youth events held recently here in Manila on two consecutive Saturdays in November: BloggedIn ASEAN, which brought over 100 bloggers from Metro Manila and all over Southeast Asia to express their thoughts on the integration online; and the ASEAN Youth Dialogues, which already had previous sessions in Ateneo de Manila University, Davao and Kuala Lumpur over last few months.

During these events, the hot topic was, of course, the formation of the so-called ASEAN Community in 2015. Experts from their respective fields of endeavor spoke on how the integration could affect the association’s ten member states in different aspects. The youth who participated in these programs also aired their thoughts about next year’s integration in the region, be it through blogging or at the open forum.

And, from these events where thoughts have been shared online and on forum, here are three lessons I’ve learned about the real score between us and our ASEAN neighbor countries:

ASEAN’s member nations do not seem to be ready in some aspects. In past ASEAN summits, as discussed, the countries didn’t seem to come to a unified decision and came to a compromise instead. This can be attributed to the different perspectives we hold in each country, together with that sense of nationalism and religious sensitivity. These different views matter heavily in the outcome of the rights ASEAN citizens enjoy as people who belong to this region, particularly with the right to free speech and expression.

Despite the youth making up a significant part of the ASEAN population, only a few are aware of the future ASEAN Community. We need not to stray far to know how evident this is among young people. Here in the Philippines alone, we are continuing to battle widespread apathy among Filipino youth. Ask a student about what happened on September 21, 1972 and chances are they might answer “Independence Day.” Look at the topics and hashtags that trend in the Philippines daily, and you’ll see teen stars and heartthrobs dominating the list (honestly, I’ve never even seen #ASEANIntegration trend even once, in the Philippines at least). We still have a long way to go to raise awareness among our peers about what this huge regional move has to offer to us, who belong to the largest age bracket group in Southeast Asia. Fortunately, BloggedIn ASEAN and the ASEAN Youth Dialogues are small but significant steps to save the Filipino youth from the ignorance that they consider bliss.

The Internet, particularly social media, plays a big role in this initiative. We live in an age where information is overflowing, and obtaining truckloads of these is just a click away. However, we tend to take this for granted and focus our online attention to things that may seem to matter but really do not. I hope we come to our senses soon and make use of social media to talk about things that really matter to us, the ASEAN integration included. It really does pay to “Think Before You Click.”

Yes, the Philippines as well as the other member states of ASEAN don’t seem to be prepared for this coming integration. However, another huge lesson I can share is: there is little time left before this becomes a reality so the preparation must start NOW and within ourselves. Like what the BloggedIn ASEANs champion’s entry said: “The Philippines should not leave its problems hanging and [should] solve them personally before committing into something that it might regret in the future just like being married—a lifetime devotion.”

On a personal note, I’d like to congratulate my YSEALI colleagues for making two ASEAN awareness events a success: Kathleen Young Ricardo, Borj Coscolluela, and Billie Dumaliang for BloggedIn ASEAN, as well as John Allanegui, Angel Bombarda, Janvic Mateo, and Renzo Guinto for ASEAN Youth Dialogues. — BM, GMA News