MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte prefers to stay in the country in the ''first few months of his presidency,'' Palace communications secretary Martin Andanar said.
Andanar issued this statement when asked for the reason why Duterte is skipping the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia on July 15 and 16.
"The president wishes to stay close to his countrymen in the first few months of his presidency,'' he said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay was designated by President Duterte to represent him in the ASEM summit which gathers 53 leaders from Asia and Europe.
A statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs said Yasay will carry forward the Philippines’ desire to strengthen and further deepen cooperation with ASEM partners.
''Among the priority themes will be practical and functional cooperation to address complex global challenges, including on maritime security, connectivity and illegal drug trafficking,'' the DFA said.
''As this is the first international meeting in which the new Philippine government will be represented, Secretary Yasay will share President Duterte’s priorities and key socio-economic policies in ASEM."
The DFA said the summit will also see Secretary Yasay discussing the Philippines' peaceful and rules-based approach on the South China Sea issue and the need for parties to respect the recent decision of the Arbitral Tribunal which declared invalid China's claim to the vast sea.
Philippines' former envoy to the United Nations Lauro Baja earlier said Duterte should consider China for his first foreign visit if he wants to improve Manila's ties with Beijing amid the bitter sea dispute.
A visit would mean that the Philippines "is really going out of her way to manage the situation in the West Philippine Sea," Baja said.
"It will mean a lot, not only to China, but I think to the stakeholders in the area (as well)," he told ABS-CBN News.
Various analysts and politicians said that after the tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines, the country is now in a better position to hold direct talks with China.
China, which rejected the tribunal's ruling, said bilateral talks is the only way to solve the dispute.