MANILA -- With less than eight months to go before he steps down from the country's highest office, President Benigno Aquino III has begun his farewells, as he bade goodbye to his fellow leaders in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and sought their cooperation for his successor.
"If I may end on a personal note: Excellencies, Your Majesty, Lao PDR’s hosting of next year’s summit will occur during the second semester. By that time, the Filipino people would have already chosen my successor. Hence, this will be the last time I am attending an ASEAN Summit as President of the Philippines. I therefore take this final intervention as an opportunity to thank all of you for the courtesy and camaraderie you have accorded me throughout my term," Aquino said in his intervention on Sunday at the ASEAN-United Nations Summit, the last of the related summits held alongside the 27th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
He added: "As a final request, I ask that you extend to my successor the same graciousness, understanding, and friendship that I have experienced these past few years. Thank you. It has truly been an honor."
Aquino also appealed for understanding from his fellow ASEAN leaders if he caused "undue" stress during his presidency.
"I ask for your understanding if, in the course of building this consensus, I have caused undue strain or stress to you, my dear colleagues. In all of our interactions and during my visits to your countries, I have strived to look at issues through your perspective, which allowed me better insight as to how you weighed your decisions, and gave me a firmer understanding of what each of us can and cannot do. In the same token, please know that every position that I took was founded on my oath to champion the welfare of my people — an oath that each of us swore to as leader of our respective nations," he said.
Aquino has the been very vocal in his pursuit of the Philippine claim over parts of the West Philippine Sea, which are also claimed by China and other Southeast Asian nations.
After repeatedly mentioning the matter in the ASEAN Summit plenary, as well as the related summits with China, India, the United States and East Asian countries like Japan and Korea, Aquino again raised the matter before the ASEAN summit with the UN.
"In terms of collective security, the Philippines recognizes that the UN plays a fundamental and crucial role in the maintenance of peace and stability. We believe in the rules and norms forged by the international community, and it is for this reason that we undertook arbitration, among other initiatives, in resolving our dispute in the sea known by many names," he said.
Although he will no longer be president at the time, Aquino assured the other leaders that the Philippines will do an excellent in hosting the ASEAN's anniversary summit in 2017. "I assure you, without a shadow of a doubt, that come our hosting of the ASEAN and related summits in 2017, you will see the Philippines reciprocating the graciousness and warmth that you have constantly extended to my delegation," he said.
At the ASEAN Summit's closing ceremony, Prime Minister Najib Razak paid tribute to Aquino and another ASEAN leader who is also on his way out -- Myanmar President U Thein Sein, who will be stepping down next year following the landslide victory for Aung Saan Suu Kyi's party in the last election.
"Najib paid tribute to two leaders who are ending their participation in ASEAN summits: President Aquino and President Thein Sein. He expressed optimism about the Bangsamoro peace process that he believes will be an enduring legacy of President Aquino," Communication Secretary Sonny Coloma said.
Earlier in the day, Aquino reiterated his call for the code of conduct in the South China Sea in his intervention at the ASEAN Japan Summit.
"The Philippines likewise appreciates Japan’s interest and concern as regards recent developments in the sea known by many names. Japan has taken a strong stand against the use of intimidation, coercion, and force, as well as unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo in the disputed areas. Japan has also consistently supported calls for the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law, and for the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, as well as the expeditious conclusion and establishment of a legally binding Code of Conduct," he said.
Aside from the summits with Japan and the United Nations, ASEAN also had a summit with Korea.
Aquino did not mention the maritime disputes in this summit. Instead, he talked about the partnership between Korea and ASEAN, especially in addressing the problem of climate change.
"I believe that, as nations sharing a single world, we all have a stake in addressing climate risk. I am thus reminded of what President Park shared with us during our meeting in Busan: climate change should be viewed both as a burden and an opportunity, particularly in developing new technologies and models. To my mind, applying such a philosophy further enables my people to build back better after disasters, and thus end the vicious cycle of devastation and reconstruction. As we climate-proof our path to development, the Philippines remains optimistic as regards Korea’s plan to develop new strategies, and the best practices that will result from such approaches," he said.