BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei—With Tropical Storm “Santi” threatening the Philippines, US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday called off a planned visit to Manila but promised to make the trip there later in the year.
Santi (international name: Nari) was expected to make landfall on Saturday on the northeastern coast of Luzon, about 150 kilometers north of Manila.
On Thursday, it was packing maximum winds of 120 km per hour and bringing heavy rain and strong winds to large parts of the Philippines.
Kerry, who had been drafted in to take over US President Barack Obama’s trip through Asia that was canceled due to the US government shutdown, blamed the postponement of his visit to Manila on Santi.
“Because of the judgment of our pilots and the airlines… and the approaching [storm], we are going to postpone the trip that I was going to make to the Philippines,” Kerry told reporters on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit, one of the meetings in the 23rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit here.
“I’m sorry not to be there in the next day or so but the good news is, I am absolutely committed to returning in a month or so,” Kerry said.
“I’m coming back to the region and I look forward to visiting… our friends in the Philippines,” he said.
Kerry said he had informed President Aquino of the postponement of his trip to Manila.
Kerry was scheduled to arrive in Manila on Friday and meet Aquino in Malacañang for discussions of defense and other US-Philippines concerns, including an agreement for increased rotations of US troops in the Philippines.
Kerry proceeded to Malaysia after the East Asia Summit here on Thursday.
“This is a big storm. Obviously, storms can change paths at the last minute. We wish the people of the Philippines safety and their well-being is our concern in the next days,” Kerry said.
He made his announcement at a news conference with Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who expressed regret.
“We regret the postponement of Secretary Kerry’s visit to Manila,” Del Rosario said. “We, of course, are eager to welcome Secretary Kerry.”
Kerry said he wanted to “emphasize the strength of our relationship,” describing US-Philippine ties as “literally unbreakable.”
Del Rosario said Kerry had “promised” President Aquino that he would come to Manila before the year ends.
Smiling, Del Rosario told Kerry: “See you then.”
In Manila, Malacañang confirmed the postponement of Kerry’s visit.
“Secretary del Rosario and Secretary Kerry held a joint press conference [on Thursday] where they announced that [due to an approaching storm] the… visit of [Secretary Kerry] will be rescheduled anytime before the end of the year,” the Palace said in a statement.
“We understand and look forward to his visit,” the Palace said.
Santi’s lashing of the northeastern parts of Luzon could change the course of Kerry’s plane as he returns to the United States on Saturday.
As of 4 p.m. on Thursday, Santi was located 490 km east of Baler, Aurora province, moving westward at 15 kph with center winds of 95 kph and gusting at 120 kph, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa).
The weather bureau raised storm Signal No. 1, indicating wind speeds of 30-60 kph, over the provinces of Catanduanes, Camarines Sur, Isabela, Aurora and Quezon, Polilio Island and Camarines Norte province.
Pagasa said Santi would bring moderate to intense rainfall (5-20 millimeters per hour) in areas within its 400-km diameter.
The weather bureau advised residents of areas under Signal No. 1 to watch out for flash floods and landslides.
Sea travel is risky off the seaboards in Eastern Visayas, Pagasa said.—With reports from Michael Lim Ubac, DJ Yap, AFP and Matikas Santos, INQUIRER.net
Originally posted at 3:23 p.m.