by Argyll Cyrus Geducos
The country’s hosting of the 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings will continue despite the lack of time to prepare, ASEAN Ambassador Marciano Paynor assured yesterday.
Aside from lack of time, another stumbling block is the long bidding process that delays arrangements for some of the 137 meetings.
Paynor, in a press briefing at the Malacañang Palace yesterday, admitted that they had more time preparing for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in 2015 compared to the ASEAN Summit.
“We had more time preparing for the APEC Summit as early as 2012 as the previous administration had already created the National Organizing Council at that time. So all through that time, preparations for the meetings which were held from December, 2014 to November, 2015, 36 meetings altogether,” he said.
For the ASEAN, he explained that preparations started in 2014 but lost a bit of time due to the turnover of the administrations.
“The previous administration decided, and rightly so, to allow the incoming administration to decide how it wanted to host the 2017 ASEAN meetings,” he said.
He also added that they are finding it difficult to secure bidders for the suppliers of the subsequent meetings due to the country’s procurement laws.
“However, our administrative rules, including procurement laws made it very difficult for us to prepare because bidding process usually takes all of three months,” he said.
“If it fails, you need another three months. And you wouldn’t believe that even as we speak, we are still bidding for suppliers for the subsequent meetings, which ideally all of these should have been finished before the start of the meetings in January,” he added.
According to Paynor, of the 17 ministerial meetings, only eight have been finished out so they still have nine more meetings which need suppliers.
“The other half are still being bidded out. Wherein the past, all of these had been taken care of before the start the hosting,” he said, explaining that so-called “must-have” events like cultural presentations has to be bidded out.
The Philippine hosting of ASEAN in 2017 is a total number 137 meetings – two summits, 17 ministerial meetings, 42 senior officials meetings, and 76 technical working group meetings. So far, 51 of the 137 meetings have been completed.
According to Paynor, the Office of the Director General for Operations is now busy preparing for meeting No. 56 – the 30th ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings – on April 26 to 29.
The 10 ASEAN leaders are set to meet on April 29 during the actual summit at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City.
Paynor also said the ASEAN-related activities in Bohol this week will continue despite the encounter between government troops and the Abu Sayyaf Group during the Holy Week.
The ASEAN meeting in Bohol is scheduled this week.
According to the ambassador, they immediately held an emergency meeting in Bohol and consulted their Committee on Security and Disaster Preparedness.
“Up until yesterday, they felt that the situation has been contained and therefore, the meeting should go on,” he said.
He explained that should the meeting been cancelled, it would have been held in Manila.
“But we always say we will not be coerced or held hostage by these actions. But at the same time, we need to be sure that we can assure the safety of the delegates. So as of now, the meeting is a go,” he said.
Paynor added that they are also looking at any security threats for the activities in Manila next week, adding that security has always been one of their top priorities.
Paynor also revealed that even President Duterte realized that it is difficult to prepare and host the ASEAN Summit after experiencing it from the other side of the bench.
“It is difficult to chair a meeting, one meeting of an hour or so, but to chair subsequent and series of meetings is really very difficult. And to think that many of the issues here are relatively new to him. He has been reading on all of these issues,” he added.
BRUNEI, INDONESIA VISITS
Paynor also said the ASEAN Summit will coincide with the bilateral visits of His Majesty Sultan Bolkiah of Brunei on the 27th, and Indonesian President Joko Widodo on the 28th.
He said the agenda of the bilateral visits will focus on specific issues that will relate to both countries.
“This is a return state visit of President Widodo. And I would imagine that security of our sea lanes, cross-border traffic and patrol, agriculture, I think, may be one of the issues that will be discussed with Indonesia,” he said.
“With Brunei, similar issues that I feel will just be reiterated and perhaps further elucidated,” he added.
Meanwhile, Widodo is also set to attend the launch of the Davao-General Santos-Bitung RO-RO (Roll On, Roll Out) route in the morning April 30.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
Acting Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said the issue on the South China Sea may be raised not just by Duterte but also by the other ASEAN leaders during the summit as it is a regional concern.
He also said that the government is hopeful more than ever that there would be a significant progress with regards to the establishing a framework for the Code of Conduct due to the commitment of the ASEAN states and China.