MANILA – President Rodrigo R. Duterte can only hold bilateral talks with nine heads of states during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Laos on September 6 to 8, due to his hectic schedule.
Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Charles Jose said President Duterte is scheduled to hold one-on-one talks with the leaders of Australia, India, Japan, Laos, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, United States and Vietnam.
“The summit is only for three days. President Duterte has other commitments after the summit,” Jose stressed. The President has scheduled state visits to Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam after the summit.
He declined to talk with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over criticism on his war on drugs.
Jose clarified that Duterte would not break the issue on territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea, but he is ready to answer all queries when heads of state ask him.
The senior official of DFA said President Duterte would promote the Philippines’ top priorities, such as a drug-free ASEAN.
Police records show Duterte’s war on drugs has left less than 1,000 pushers and users dead, two months after he took his oath of office.
Manila has downplayed concerns about human rights violations in its war on drug.
It argued that the vigilante killings were not sanctioned by the state, saying that many of those who died were killed in legitimate law enforcement operations.
He said Manila would continue to advocate the rule of law and the legally binding code of conduct in the South China Sea.
The Duterte administration has decided to keep a low-key approach in the aftermath of the arbitral ruling and has refrained from pushing for its inclusion in a previous ASEAN ministerial communiqué, noting that the matter remains an issue between the Philippines and China.
The President will formally accept the Philippine chairmanship of the ASEAN in 2017 from Laos.
His other objectives during the meetings are to strengthen relations with other ASEAN states.
Aside from the Philippines and Laos, the other 10-nation bloc includes Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar.
By Sammy F. Martin