Duterte to attend 35th ASEAN Summit in Thailand – DFA

Robie de Guzman   •   October 29, 2019   •   417

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte takes a bow before the guests as he takes center stage during the 45th Philippine Business Conference and Expo at The Manila Hotel on October 17, 2019. VALERIE ESCALERA/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte is set to fly to Thailand this week to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, an official from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

In a pre-departure briefing in Malacañang on Monday, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for the Office of ASEAN Affairs Junever Mahilum-West said the ASEAN Summit in Thailand will be held from November 2 to 4.

The Summit Plenary will start on November 2, Saturday while the opening ceremony will be held on November 3, Sunday.

Mahilum-West said Duterte is expected to talk about the long-delayed code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea when he participates in the ASEAN Plus Three Summit and the East Asia Summit.

Leaders attending in this meeting are expected to share their views regarding regional and international issues affecting the region.

The COC will be featured in the discussions, Mahilum-West said, describing the issue as “unavoidable.” The discussion on the COC falls within the ASEAN’s three pillars of cooperation: political security, economic, and socio-cultural.

“Kasi doon sa meeting na ‘yun ng mga leaders, they will have a parang tour of the horizon of what’s happening throughout the region,” she said, adding other countries are also expected to give their views.

“But as to intensive negotiations, we don’t expect that will happen in this meeting— in these kinds of meetings,” she added.

Duterte will also discuss the current direction of the country’s partnerships and cooperation on mutual concerns with China, India, the United Nations, the United States, and Japan during the ASEAN one-on-one summits.

Mahilum-West said there are about 40 anticipated outcome documents at the end of the 35th ASEAN Summit, which represent the culmination of the community’s work in pursuit of a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable ASEAN Community.

Duterte is scheduled to leave for Thailand on November 1, Friday. He will be accompanied by DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez and Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista.

Lacson backs gov’t move to block release of P80-B congressional realignments

Robie de Guzman   •   February 19, 2020

Senator Panfilo Lacson

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday revealed that at least P80 billion in congressional realignments have been withheld by President Rodrigo Duterte and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

In a statement, Lacson said some lawmakers tried to realign at least P80 billion from the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program to their districts’ “pet projects” under the P4.1 trillion 2020 national budget.

But instead of exercising his veto power over the line items which could stall the approval of the budget, the lawmaker said Duterte decided to just block the release of the budget by way of a DBM circular now called “for later release,” which has the same effect of a veto.

“I support the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte and the Department of Budget and Management to withhold the release of these congressional realignments,” he said.

“This is one reason why I continue to support the leadership of President Duterte in spite of some disagreements with him over some policy issues: He has time and again displayed the strong political will, even against many self-proclaimed allies in Congress whose loyalty clearly lies where the money lies,” he added.

Lacson advised the president to “always be wary of these so-called allies” who have the propensity to praise him to high heavens and never criticize him but with self-aggrandizement and greed as their only motivation and nothing else.

The House of Representatives has yet to issue a comment on Lacson’s claim. – RRD (with details form Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

It’s more fun in the Philippines: Duterte invites Filipinos to visit local tourism sites amid Covid-19 fears

Robie de Guzman   •   February 14, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has called on Filipinos to visit local tourism sites amid fears of international travel and restrictions due to the threat of novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

In a taped message posted on social media, Duterte urged the public to help boost local tourism by visiting the country’s scenic spots and discovering other awe-inspiring hidden gem attractions.

“To my fellow Filipinos, I encourage you to travel with me around the Philippines. I assure you that everything is safe in our country, be it an issue of health, be it an issue of law and order and be it an issue of accessibility,” the President said.

“Come with me and be my travel companion. I’ll be traveling around the Philippines. Pasyal tayo dito sa atin. Unahin natin ‘yung atin. Mabuhay ang Pilipino. Mabuhay ang turismo ng Pilipinas,” he added.

The chief executive issued the call after the tourism sector reported at least P10 billion in revenue losses due to an entry ban on travelers to and from China, the country’s largest tourism market, after it was hit by coronavirus outbreak.

Duterte said local airline companies and hotel operators have agreed to offer discounted rates to counter the negative effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, and to promote the country’s tourism sector to local tourists.

“Maraming magagandang mapuntahan sa Pilipinas, wala kayong dapat alalahanin,” he said.

The Philippines has imposed an entry ban on foreigners who travelled from China, Hong Kong and Macau within 14 days in an effort to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus strain. It later expanded the ban’s coverage to include Taiwan.

Lacson hits move to scrap VFA that exposes PH to security threats

Robie de Guzman   •   February 13, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Thursday expressed his belief that the Philippines is now exposed naked to threats after being stripped of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

In a statement, Lacson said the country will no doubt survive without the military pact given the resilience of the Filipino people and its soldiers.

“We know how to improvise and we can adapt to crises the way we did many times before,” he said.

However, he pointed out that without the US assistance from now on, the Philippines will continue to be exposed to terrorists and other threats to national security.

“[I]n the meantime, we remain exposed to terrorist threats, both domestic and foreign, not to mention the continuing security threat in the West Philippine Sea posed by China, and even the need for timely humanitarian response and assistance that the US is capable of deploying during disasters, natural or man-made,” he said.

He also said that the abrogation of the country’s military pact also affects the maintenance and repairs of military hardware, mostly air assets provided by the US under the AFP modernization program.

The VFA between Washington and Manila came into force in 1999. It outlines the guidelines about the treatment of their troops when visiting the US or the Philippines. It includes provisions on visa and passport policies for US troops and the American government’s right to retain jurisdiction over its personnel, among others.

The deal may be terminated by either of the two countries by writing to the other party signifying their intent to end the agreement. Its expiration will come 180 days from the date of notification.

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday shrugged off the Philippines’ scrapping of the VFA, saying it would “save a lot of money.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) earlier said it is now eyeing to sign similar defense treaties and increase engagement for joint exercises with other countries as a replacement for the terminated agreement with the US.

But Lacson pointed out that establishing a similar military pact would take a long time.

“Exploring other options like inking similar defense treaties with other nations as posited by the AFP Chief of Staff is fine but the reality is, it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said.

“It will take a series of back-and-forth negotiations in pursuit of the concerned parties’ self and national interests before going through lengthy deliberations for ratification by the Senate,” he added.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the termination of the VFA following the US’ move to cancel the visa of his ally, former National Police chief and now Senator Ronald dela Rosa. Duterte has also repeatedly criticized the US for its ‘disrespectful’ actions including meddling in the country’s internal affairs.

“While admittedly, the VFA is not perfect for the Philippines as far as equitability is concerned, the timing and reasons for its abrogation are way off the mark,” Lacson said.

“The thing is, it is not the smartest move of the President to expose ourselves naked first before looking for other options for cover,” he added.

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