By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
President Duterte is set to discuss issues that affect the well-being of people in the Southeast Asian region during the 32nd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit to be held in Singapore on April 27-28, 2018.
The President, who was last year’s chairman of the Summit, will be joining nine other leaders of the ASEAN, including this year’s host – Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
According to Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Assistant Secretary Hellen de la Vega, Duterte would address issues “close to his heart,” especially matters that affect the well-being of the people in the region.
“He will work with other leaders in putting an imprint towards the realization of ASEAN Vision 2025 by identifying and prioritizing initiatives that will move forward action lines in the political, security, economic and socio-cultural communities, particularly on the deliverables of our chairmanship last year,” De La Vega said in a press briefing in Malacañang Friday morning.
De La Vega was referring to the ASEAN consensus on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers and the ASEAN declaration on the role of civil service as a catalyst to realize the ASEAN Vision 2025, and other declarations that focus on the overall health of the citizens of the region.
She also said that Duterte will be speaking in two important engagements in the Summit next week, namely the working dinner on Friday, April 27, and the Leaders’ Retreat on Saturday, April 28.
“The President will be joining other leaders of ASEAN member states in continuing the work of advancing community building and in living up to the shared commitment of maintaining and promoting the peace, security, and stability of the region,” De La Vega said.
The DFA official also said that the President is looking into having a bilateral meeting with Lee, the current ASEAN chairman. Aside from this, De La Vega also revealed that there are two ASEAN leaders who wish to have a bilateral meeting with Duterte. However, she refused to divulge further information.
Meanwhile, De La Vega said that the Singapore Summit will be an opportunity for the 10 leaders of ASEAN to address transnational and trans-boundary issues such as terrorism, violent extremism, trafficking in persons, illicit drug, and disaster management.
“We can anticipate that the leaders will be tackling regional and global issues that impact on the peace and security of our region, as well as on current developments that now pose a challenge to economic integration and the promotion of a free, fair, and rules-based trading regime,” she said.
Singapore’s chosen theme for its chairmanship is a resilient and innovative ASEAN. De La Vega said this weaves well into the Philippines’ thematic priorities during its time as chair of the regional bloc last year.
De La Vega said that the focus of this year’s summit will be on ways to make use of innovation and technology to improve the lives of the people in the region.
“Singapore will be introducing initiatives along this line, including one that will move forward city development, sustainable urbanization and connectivity among ASEAN cities,” she said.
De La Vega also said that three outcome documents are being prepared by Singapore for its chairmanship of the regional bloc.
Meanwhile, the DFA official said that the government is now laying down plans for the President to meet with the members of the Filipino community in Singapore. There are around 180,000 Filipinos in Singapore.
The ASEAN is composed of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore.
During the India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit in January this year, President Duterte reiterated his push for the ASEAN to have a military cooperation to address terrorism and violent extremism.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque had earlier said that President Duterte pushed for the regional and multilateral cooperation to address terrorist financing to prevent violent extremism and the importance of timely intelligence gathering and analysis.
De Las Vega also said the issue in the South China Sea and the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar may be tackled during in the Summit.
The issue of the South China Sea is always a regular feature in discussions, De La Vega said.
But she said that it would be better first to raise topics that are not as complicated as the maritime dispute among China and six other ASEAN states, including the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
“At the moment, we’re looking at the issues where we can find convergence, common convergence rather than the most complicated issues,” she told Malacañang reporters Friday morning.
“But of course, it will always be a goal of the Philippines to make sure that all issues are looked at or are covered by the COC (Code of Conduct),” she added.
She said the COC is not meant to resolve the disputes, but is meant to manage or prevent incidents from happening that may escalate or create situations that may complicate peace and stability in the region.
According to De La Vega, resolving the South China Sea issue will take some time and it would be more preferable to improve the relationship between ASEAN and China.
De La Vega said it is also expected that the 10 ASEAN leaders may discuss the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
“I think that you can also expect that it’s a regular feature as well, that these leaders will be discussing developments there. And I won’t be surprised if Myanmar will offer to brief the leaders on developments in Rakhine,” she said.
The Palace said last year that the situation in Rakhine was briefly discussed during the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila last year. The ASEAN also vowed to assist Myanmar in implementing the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.
In a press conference in Davao City last week, President Duterte apologized to Myanmar State CounsellorAung San SuuKyi for saying that genocide was taking place in her country. De La Vega said it is up to the President whether he would want to personally apologize to Suu Kyi.