ASEAN summit ‘animates’ sick Aquino
MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III is still down with the flu, but the importance of a regional summit forced him to get going.
Palace officials travelling with Aquino in Cambodia said the President made sure to drink his medicines on time to be able to participate in the 21st Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in Phnom Penh on November 18, Sunday.
“The President is in good spirits. He is very energetic,” said Palace Communications Secretary Herminio “Sonny” Coloma Jr. “He is animated by the significance of his participation in this vital forum.”
Before leaving for Cambodia, Aquino was already sick and even had to cancel a meeting with International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde on Friday, November 16.
Aquino made a last-minute decision on Saturday to push through with the trip, after interviewing candidates for Supreme Court Associate Justice and seeing his private physician.
The Palace said Aquino was suffering from flu, allergic rhinitis, fever and muscle pains before leaving for Cambodia.
Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said having 10 speaking opportunities in the ASEAN summit, related summits and in bilateral meetings weighed heavily on Aquino’s decision to defy his illness.
“This is one of the primary considerations why the President really decided to come over. It’s a rare opportunity to participate in these dialogues and we do have something to say in most of them,” Almendras said.
“So he’s definitely feeling …. I think the will and the intent to be here is driving [him],” the Cabinet Secretary added.
Aquino also fell ill in another overseas trip, skipping a state dinner in Australia last month because of a stomach ache.
‘Right tone, footing on sea disputes’
Almendras said Aquino made it a point to use the proper tone in discussing the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China before the summit.
In his address on the Six-Point Principles, Aquino said, “My country supports its effective implementation, which will highlight the fruits of constructive dialogue, strengthen our resolve, and reaffirm our respect for international law such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas.”
Almendras said, “A lot of effort was put in place on the tone because we did not want to be …. He wanted to make sure he said things correctly.”
In past speeches in the Philippines, Aquino sometimes used an aggressive tone on China. In his State of the Nation Address last year, he even said, “What belongs to the Philippines is the Philippines.’”
Almendras also said the summit kicked off “in a very good footing” with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen being “upfront” about issues in the South China Sea.
The Cabinet Secretary said this was an improvement from the ASEAN meeting last July which failed to produce a joint communiqué over the issue. Cambodia was accused of trying to skirt the issue to favor Chinese interest.
Almendras said, “So I think the nice thing about this morning was [that] the discussion started on the right footing and a follow through.”
PH input in rights declaration
Aquino joined other ASEAN leaders in signing the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration at the conclusion of the plenary session. Watch the signing ceremony here:
The Declaration includes provisions on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and aims to reduce illegal arrests and torture.
Almendras said the Philippines pushed for the inclusion of instruments to protect migrant workers and fight trafficking in persons.
“The main input of the Philippines was really along the lines of migrant workers because, together with Indonesia, we have the most number of migrant workers.”
Almendras added, “The significance is that whether you’re in Singapore or in Bangkok, if you’re a Filipino, you are assured that your rights will be respected by the host country.”
The Cabinet Secretary described the declaration as “an improvement over the international version.”
Critics however have said otherwise. The United Nations Human Rights Commissioner and civil society groups called for the suspension of the adoption of the declaration.
They said the declaration does not conform with international standards and its drafting lacked consultation. The draft declaration was not made public.
A day before the adoption of the declaration, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines will help improve the document.
"Since our President has strong views and is a staunch advocate of human rights, we also further take the position that ASEAN has this unique privilege to speak up firmly for all those who may not be able to do so,” del Rosario said. – Rappler.com
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