Duterte arrives in Thailand for 35th ASEAN Summit

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 01 2019 10:49 PM | Updated as of Nov 02 2019 02:32 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte disembarks from a plane upon his arrival at the Royal Thai Air Force Base in Bangkok, Thailand on Nov. 1, 2019. Toto Lozano, Presidential Photo

President Rodrigo Duterte is welcomed by Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul upon his arrival at the Royal Thai Air Force Base in Bangkok, Thailand on Nov. 1, 2019. Toto Lozano, Presidential Photo

President Rodrigo Duterte is welcomed by a member of the reception party upon his arrival at the Royal Thai Air Force Base in Bangkok, Thailand on Nov. 1, 2019. Toto Lozano, Presidential Photo

MANILA (2nd UPDATE)—President Rodrigo Duterte arrived in Thailand Friday night to attend the 35th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit.

The plane carrying the President and his delegation landed at the Royal Thai Air Force Base in Bangkok at 8:52 p.m., a Palace official said.

In his fourth visit to Thailand, he was welcomed by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul and Deputy Chief of Protocol Vosit Vorasup.

Duterte, who was invited by current ASEAN chair Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, is expected to hold talks with fellow ASEAN leaders on the South China Sea dispute with China.

"This year's theme, 'Advancing Partnership for Sustainability,' is a subject matter close to President Duterte as he himself believes in—and has publicly articulated in numerous occasions the importance of—promoting respectful friendships and responsible partnerships, as well as meaningful cooperation, to realize his vision of inclusive growth and sustainable development for the Philippines," his spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

RCEP DEAL

The Duterte administration is optimistic negotiations on the Asia-wide free trade agreement involving 16 countries, including the ASEAN, will finally be concluded during the summit after 7 years.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP trade deal has been seen as a way to “somehow partially insulate” the region from the negative impact of the tariff war between the US and China.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar said the agreement would drastically increase the market for participating countries, like the Philippines.

“I am sure we will gain and I am sure the market opens up tremendously from 600 million to 3.5 billion people. So just imagine, the product of the Philippines can now be exported to 3.5 billion people,” he said.

“For ASEAN it is important that we can also send or export our products to other countries na sa ngayon hindi natin ma-export dahil mataas masyado ang tariffs, hindi tayo makapag-compete. By having an RCEP, then we essentially equalize further the playing field in our ASEAN regional bloc, and the additional countries we will be dealing with,” he added.

The deal encountered an “obstacle” with India raising concerns over the products, which will be covered in the RCEP, Andanar said.

He still hopes that participating countries will reach an agreement on Nov. 4.

“I am optimistic that after all the time and money invested by different nations, especially ASEAN, parang wala na hong rason kung bakit hindi ito ma-finalize during this time,” Andanar said.

SOUTH CHINA SEA

The Philippines, meanwhile, is looking forward to an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, expecting it would ease tensions in the disputed waters.

“The Association of Southeast Asian Nations would want this as soon as possible,” Andanar said.

“The Philippines will work extra to be able to come up with the good environment for the final approval and implementation on the Code of Conduct over the South China Sea,” he added.

But according to Andanar, the President will maintain his policy of being “friends to all and enemies to none,” noting that the Philippines’ relationship with China is not limited to the territorial conflict.

“We also have trading relations with China. We do have cultural exchanges with China. We are expecting ODA (official development assistance) and we are also receiving investments from the People's Republic of China, whether from the government or the private sector,” Andanar said, adding that he does not see any danger for the Philippines if parties have yet to agree on the South China Sea code of conduct soon.

Despite this, the Philippines maintains its claim over the West Philippine Sea.

“We still hold that card, that Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling stating that we do have sovereignty over this area in the West Philippine Sea,” Andanar said. But asked whether the President will raise it during the ASEAN Summit, he said he couldn’t tell.

'FAKE NEWS'

Meanwhile, Andanar tagged as “fake news” a supposed photo of Bangkok Post’s front page last Oct. 31, showing an alleged article with the title “King orders PH Duterte behave during ASEAN Summit.”

He presented to the media a hard copy of the newspaper published the same day, but the supposed story on Duterte appeared nowhere on the paper.

“Mukhang na edit, finotoshop siguro 'yong dito tapos pinalitan ng fake news na title. Malisyoso ang ginawa ng tao na 'yon, kung sinuman siya,” Andanar said.

“Alam niyo po may lese-majeste law na kapag binastos n’yo ang hari ng Thailand ay makukulong kayo ng 15 taon,” he warned, adding that he would tap the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to trace the culprit behind the “malicious” photo.

“I also would like to remind everyone to be respectful of the good relations between the Philippines and Thailand, and not to create fake news, which will be detrimental to our good relations,” Andanar said.

TRUMP’S ABSENCE

US President Donald Trump will reportedly skip the ASEAN Summit again this year. He will be represented by National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Asked if this sends a wrong message to the thriving 10-nation regional bloc, Andanar said he doesn’t think so.

“ASEAN and US have had a good relationship in the last decades. We would want to foster our good partnership. An absence in an ASEAN Summit like this will not change the equation of our relations,” Andanar said.

ASEAN SUMMIT EVENTS

President Duterte is expected to attend 9 ASEAN Summit events, according to his spokesperson. That’s even after doctors advised him last week to rest and take pain relievers for muscle spasms, following a motorcycle mishap.

The 74-year-old chief executive is scheduled to participate in the ASEAN Plenary Summit, the ASEAN-China Summit, the ASEAN-India Summit, the ASEAN-UN Summit, the ASEAN plus Three Summit, the ASEAN–US Summit, the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN-Japan Summit and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Summit.

During these events, participating state leaders are also expected to discuss measures to address climate change, marine pollution, geopolitical shifts, fourth industrial revolution and security concerns like terrorism, illicit drug trafficking and other transnational crimes.

The 35th ASEAN Summit is expected to conclude more than 40 outcome documents. They will serve as blueprints for the region’s collective pursuit of a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable ASEAN community.

This is the President’s fourth visit to the Kingdom of Thailand. His first visit was in Nov. 2016 to pay respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, followed by an official visit in March 2017 and later in June this year for the 34th ASEAN Summit.

Duterte left for Thailand Friday following a series of powerful earthquakes that struck his home region, Mindanao. But Malacañang assures Filipinos that the President will continue to monitor the situation in the quake-hit areas.