Sunday 29 October 2017

The importance of the ASEAN Summit 2017 in the Philippines

The ASEAN Summit is probably the most important event taking place in this part of the world. It’s all set to take place from Nov. 10 to 14 with 21 world leaders plus United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expected to attend. Aside from the heads of state of the 10 ASEAN member-nations, leaders of the regional bloc’s dialogue partners that include Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, China, Russia, India, the European Union and of course the United States will be in attendance for the Special Gala event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the ASEAN.

Ambassador Marciano “Jun” Paynor, the National Organizing Committee head, explained to us that the preparations have been one of the most massive with so many ministerial meetings, technical working group meetings, senior official meetings and other side meetings that have been taking place.

Jun told me that close to 300 meetings are being conducted throughout the year, and more than 240 have already been concluded including the recent ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting in Clark participated in by regional defense chiefs and their counterparts from partner countries. *

The Philippines is set to host the 30th Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Symmit and related meetings in Manila(photo credit to owner)
I joined President Duterte’s meeting with US Defense Secretary James Mattis together with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Jun Esperon at the Clark Convention Center private meeting room.

ASEAN 2017 is probably one of the most important events to be hosted by the Philippines, with the magnitude of the preparations similar if not even more than the country’s year-long hosting of the 2015 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit which was capped by the APEC Leaders’ Summit held in Manila and attended by 21 world leaders and more than 7,000 delegates and participants from government and the private sector.

Security measures are one of the most elaborate, with some 9,000 cops deployed in Clark as the world leaders will be arriving and departing via Clark Airport in Angeles City in Pampanga. Aside from suspending classes, MalacaƱang has also imposed a 15-day gun ban in Metro Manila and Central Luzon. To facilitate the smooth flow of traffic as the heads of state and their respective contingents will be traveling to Manila where they will be billeted, the North Luzon Expressway will be intermittently on lockdown for several minutes until the convoys pass through.

It’s understandable why Clark Airport has been chosen for the arrival and departure of the heads of state as the president does not want NAIA to become even more congested – one of the lessons learned during the APEC 2015 Leaders’ Summit when flight schedules were disrupted as commercial flights had to be suspended whenever a head of state arrived. But then most Filipinos – more often than not – understand that these situations occur. We are such a hospitable people that we do not really get angry or bitch too much about hosting such an important event as long as they are explained properly and early enough so people can adjust accordingly. *

It would have been very ideal to just hold the leaders’ summit in Clark, as Bases Conversion Development Authority president and CEO Vince Dizon had been working hard to prepare the ASEAN Villas in the Clark Ecozone for the use of the world leaders. Unfortunately, there are simply not enough hotels to accommodate other participants and delegates, not to mention the security detail for these world leaders, each one of whom would most likely be sending advance teams to check on security preparations and other pertinent details.

One of the most elaborate security preparations will undoubtedly be that of the United States for President Donald Trump. We are all aware of the current situation and issues surrounding North Korea. The most vital security component for the US president is Air Force One, with an exact B-747 duplicate to be used as a decoy and transport Secret Service agents and other members of Trump’s contingent. Air Force One is the symbol of America’s strength and power but is also used as the flying White House when there is potential danger. George Bush was on Air Force One for eight hours right after the 9/11 attacks.

Three US Navy aircraft carriers are already in the Pacific ahead of Trump’s visit – and each carrier strike group can have 10 ships, over 7,500 personnel and dozens of jet fighters and other aircraft as support. These aircraft carriers are truly massive and are not dependent on land bases to project air power. *

When Trump visited Israel last May, 25 C-17s and two C5 transport planes were deployed to carry the logistical equipment as well as helicopters, vehicles for the Secret Service and a special armored limousine known as “The Beast” to transport the president by land. Aside from that, five VH-60 helicopters also accompanied the president when he had to travel by land in Jerusalem.

One can only imagine the huge expense that will be incurred for the US president’s visit, but as US Ambassador Sung Kim said, this is really an important trip for President Trump. We are all hopeful the bilateral meeting between President Trump and President Duterte will be extremely successful.

With all the preparations in place, everyone is optimistic that everything will turn out well for this ASEAN meeting. This event is about the ASEAN and our country, and the distinct opportunity of putting our world-renowned hospitality in the spotlight. Needless to say, President Duterte as the ASEAN chairman will have the rare privilege of setting the agenda and focusing on what our country is doing to promote peace, security and economic prosperity for all.

The article was written by Phil. Ambassador to the US Babe Romualdez of Philippine Star  titled “The importance of the ASEAN Summit ” which was published October 29, 2017.

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