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Duterte calls for respect for independence in debut as Asean host

/ 11:22 AM April 29, 2017

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(Updated, 4:59 p.m.) President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) leaders to respect each countries’ independence in the region and find their place in the international arena.

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Duterte debuted as host of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) summit here in Manila, the first test of his diplomacy as host.

He made the statement of independence and mutual respect among the Asean nations amid growing criticisms from the United States and the European Union on his administration’s brutal war on drugs, which reportedly claimed over 7,000 lives. The police, however, have said that only 2,600 deaths of drug pushers and users could be attributed to the intensified narcotics crackdown.

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“Our engagement with Dialogue Partners allowed us to set the table for meaningful discussions on maintaining peace and stability, the pursuit of development goals, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and the promotion of our peoples’ welfare. Let me say again: relations bear fruit when they are based on mutual respect and benefit,” Duterte said.

Duterte cited the agreements with dialogue partners Canada, European Union (EU), and even the United States, but he maintained that the partnership would be more valuable if countries treat each other as equals.

Duterte has cursed the EU for being critical of his administration’s war on drugs, and slammed the United States for its inaction on China’s artificial island building activities in the South China Sea.

Duterte even threatened to end a military agreement with the US, which he accused of leading the pacification campaign against the Muslims when the Philippines was a US colony.

READ: Fuck you, EU – Duterte | Duterte announces military, economic split with US

“This year, we are commemorating milestones with four of our dialogue partners – the 40th anniversary of dialogue relations with Canada, the European [Union], and the United States of America, and the 25th anniversary of relations with India. We are also commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Asean Plus Three. These are relations that are valued,” Duterte said.

“But they can be much more valuable and stronger if we learn to respect each other’s independence and treat each other as sovereign equals,” he added.

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Duterte also vouched for the non-interference principle of the Asean region, a principle the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights criticized as an excuse by Asean governments in blocking human rights protections under international law.

READ: Tackle ‘growing human rights crisis’ in the region, Asean urged

Facing mounting outcry from human rights groups hitting his campaign against drugs, Duterte has bristled at criticisms from the West on his brutal narcotics war, even cursing then US President Barack Obama for interfering in the country’s affairs.

“Dialogue relations shall be made more productive, constructive if the valued principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of the Asean member states is observed,” Duterte said.

READ: Facing backlash on killings, Duterte to find solace in Asean

Duterte said it is time for the Asean region to find its place in the international arena.

“History will judge us on how we are able to help our people and our region become [even] better and stronger based on the values and heritage we hold dear. In this milestone year, the time is ripe – and indeed it is right – to make our decisions [count]. It is time for ASEAN to finally assert, with conviction, its position in the international arena,” Duterte said.

“It is time, and the time is right, to finally assert with conviction its position in the international arena,” Duterte said.

READ: Duterte: People should understand the importance of Asean

Duterte led the Asean leaders at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), the main venue for the 30th Asean summit in Manila.

The Asean leaders in attendance were Myanmar state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Phuc, Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesia President Joko Widodo, and Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Duterte also broadly raised the growing concern of disputes in the Asean region which he said must be settled through peaceful means under international rules.

Duterte did not specifically mention the maritime disputes in the South China Sea, where the Philippines and other Asean members Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam have overlapping claims with China.

Duterte has cozied up The Philippines’ relations with China amid a bonanza of loans and investments, even saying that he would not raise during the summit the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling favoring the Philippines’ maritime claims over the West Philippine Sea and invalidating China’s nine-dash line claiming most of the disputed waters.

READ: Duterte: Arbitral ruling not an issue for Asean
The Asean leaders, however, are expected to tackle the crafting of a Code of Conduct to govern the actions of Asean member states and China in the resource-rich waters.

“Relations also remain solid if all stakeholders learn to respect and value the peaceful resolution of disputes. In an era where there can be much uncertainty, we must faithfully adhere to the supremacy of the law and rely on the primacy of rules as responsible members of the international community,” Duterte said.

READ: Duterte avoids mention of China in Asean welcome address

Duterte likewise mentioned the menace in the region of illegal drugs, sharing with fellow Asean leaders his experience at seeing how the scourge of illegal substance destroy Filipinos’ lives, especially the youth.

“The region remains solid if all stakeholders learn to respect and value the peaceful resolution of disputes… We must adhere to the supremacy of the law, and the life of the primacy of rules as responsible members of the international community,” Duterte said.

Duterte likewise mentioned the menace in the region of illegal drugs, sharing with fellow Asean leaders his experience at seeing how the scourge of illegal substance destroy Filipinos’ lives, especially the youth.

Duterte won the elections in a campaign to eliminate the drug trade during his administration. While calling for the death of drug addicts, he has denied ordering the killings of drug suspects, saying that those who were killed resisted arrest.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during the opening ceremony of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders' summit in Manila on April 29, 2017. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte faced pushback on April 29 at the regional summit in his efforts to weaken Southeast Asian resistance to Chinese expansionism in the contested South China Sea, diplomats said. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / MARK R. CRISTINO

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during the opening ceremony of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders’ summit in Manila on April 29, 2017. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte faced pushback on April 29 at the regional summit in his efforts to weaken Southeast Asian resistance to Chinese expansionism in the contested South China Sea, diplomats said. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / MARK R. CRISTINO

READ: Duterte to poor: ‘If you die, I’m sorry’ 

“The scourge of illegal drugs threatens community building. I have seen how illegal drugs have ended the hopes, dreams and future, and even the lives of countless people, especially the youth,” Duterte said.

“The illegal drug trade apparatus is massive.. With political will and cooperation, it can be dismantled, it can be destroyed, before it destroys our society,” Duterte said.

Duterte also cited the need for the Asean to end the threat of terrorism, piracy, armed robbery, and violent extremism which destroy regional growth.

“Equally important, we must not waver to eliminate security threats to regional growth and development,” he added.

Duterte also took the opportunity to thank his Asean counterparts for the help they extended when Supertyphoon Yolanda (International name: Haiyan) flattened towns and cities in the country in 2013.

“Our region is one of the most vulnerable when it comes to natural disasters.  Typhoon Haiyan turned some provinces and cities into wastelands. Thousands of lives were lost. Amid the desolation and destruction, I saw the resilience of our people to pick up pieces of their lives and start again,” Duterte said.

“This indomitable spirit of the Filipino people allows us to surpass the challenges that come our way. This is also why we are focused on becoming more prepared. The Philippines will never forget timely assistance from fellow Asean countries during our time of greatest need,” he added.

In his speech during the Asean Leadership Forum in Manila Hotel Friday, Duterte earlier underscored the need for Asean regional integration in the face of cultural differences and amid the threats of terrorism, violent extremism and criminality such as the illegal drug trade.

“We need to cultivate the sense of ownership by putting Asean in their consciousness… Let them feel they are a part of efforts to achieve common aspiration,” Duterte then said.

The Asean leaders will release the chairman’s statement at the end of the summit to sum up the points of consensus on issues.

The Asean leaders are also expected to sign the Declaration on the Role of the Civil Service as A Catalyst for Achieving ASEAN Community Vision 2025.

READ: Asean meet is Duterte’s debut as summit host

The Asean leaders are also expected this afternoon to have an interface with the Asean parliamentarians and lawmakers, as well as the Asean youth.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez as chairperson of the Asean Inter-parliamentary Assembly will deliver the draft message of the parliamentarians’ group to the Asean leaders.

The Asean parliamentarians and lawmakers are expected to stress the importance of the Asean work plan against illicit drugs and the declaration of a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.

READ: Asean lawmakers approve statement on illegal drugs, code of conduct 

National Youth Commission chairperson Aiza Seguerra will deliver the statement during the interface between the Asean leaders and the Asean youth, where she is set to appeal for support from the leaders on issues relating to climate change, youth voluntarism, and Asean awareness.

READ: Aiza Seguerra closes meetings of Asean youth representatives

The Philippines is host of the 30th Asean Summit from April 26 to 29 in Manila. Duterte would chair first of two annual meetings of Asean leaders. The next meeting is in November.

Duterte will also host a gala dinner at Sofitel Manila for the Asean leaders, who will be garbed with Rajo Laurel barongs showcasing the fabric of Mindanao ethnolinguistic tribes. Meanwhile, the spouses will wear gowns designed by Rhett Eala.

The Asean leaders will also be serenaded after dinner with ethnic musical numbers and cultural dances.

Under the theme “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World,” the Asean leaders will discuss progress in the implementation of the Asean Vision 2025, as well as Asean’s external relations and its future direction. IDL

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TAGS: ASEAN, ASEAN 2017, Asean Summit, independence, Mutual Respect, Rodrigo Duterte
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