21 heads of state – so far – confirmed attendance at ASEAN summit: NOC head

October 24, 2017 - 3:18 PM
Ambassador Marciano Paynor, head of the National Organizing Committee for the country's ASEAN hosting, briefs reporters at the Palace. PTV 4 IMAGE GRAB

MANILA – (UPDATE, 4:56 P.M) The secretary general of the United Nations will join 20 heads of state and leaders of government at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit that the Philippines will host in November, the head of the National Organizing Committee said Tuesday.

Following tradition, leaders of the 10 ASEAN member states will be in attendance at this year’s summit – significant because it is the regional bloc’s 50th anniversary – and will be joined by eight members of the East Asia Summit, according to the NOC head, Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr..

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has confirmed attendance, Paynor said at a Malacañang press briefing. “We will have a total of 21 heads of state, heads of government, plus the Secretary General of the United Nations. Thus far, we have not had any indication of anyone not coming,” he said.

Paynor said that leaders of ASEAN-EU and ASEAN-Canada, which both mark their 40th Anniversary of collaboration with ASEAN, will also fly in to Manila in November.

“So that’s 10 ASEAN member-states, eight members of the East Asia Summit, and two others who are celebrating the 40th Anniversary of ASEAN collaboration and that is ASEAN-EU and ASEAN-Canada. So both the President of the economic community, plus the Premier — Prime Minister [Justin Trudeau] of Canada are also expected to arrive here,” he explained.

Only Timor Leste, whose membership in ASEAN remains pending, will send a representative as guest.

Meanwhile, Paynor said two heads of state are so far confirmed to have scheduled bilateral meetings with Duterte, but declined to name them.

Remarks vs EU won’t affect ASEAN

Meanwhile, Paynor explained that although the Philippines is ASEAN chair this year and it has been at odds with the EU over human rights issues, among others, national issues such as those that have gotten President Duterte’s ire are not bound to have any impact on ASEAN-EU relations.

“The ASEAN and European Union interaction has been very robust. In fact, well, we are celebrating 40 years [of ASEAN-EU relations] and that’s why the President, as chair, invited the president of the EU and so the president of the EU is coming. So I feel that the issue between the Philippines and EU on a bilateral basis will be put in the background.

He said issues that have engaged the Philippines and EU have been tackled mostly in bilateral talks.

And, while Duterte may have in the past aired strong views about allies such as the US and the EU, “his views, country views” at the ASEAN Summit are expected to be “a little bit more subtle, cannot be pushed. As much as he would have been able to push if he were sitting as part of the meeting, rather than as chair. So we have to distinguish the two roles that the president will have. On a bilateral basis, yes, he can espouse full country positions,” Paynor explained.

The EU has just issued an annual report saying human rights violations worsened in the Philippines in the second half of 2016 or since Duterte assumed office.

Malacañang has dismissed this as a wornout refrain. Secretary Enrsto Abella noted that “the EU’s report covers the period of last year’s elections and many of its alleged findings are a rehash of criticisms aired by the political party whose candidate lost to the president,” in apparent reference to the LIberal Party of Duterte’s predecessor.

Right now, there is no indication that Duterte will raise with the EU president his views when they meet in November.

Nonetheless, Abella served notice the administration is acting on issues that have concerned EU such as alleged extrajudicial killings (EJKs).

“We reiterate that the Philippines is investigating allegations of drug-related killings, extrajudicial deaths, and media violence to ensure the accountability of perpetrators.”

Paynor said he is confident that “pretty much everything is set” for the Summit-related events, given the preparations thus far. At least 282 meetings have been planned for the ASEAN hosting.

“Most of all, our security elements are really on their toes because that is the one area that we cannot really prepare for 100 percent. So we keep on trying,” he said.