Do’s and don’ts for Duterte, first-time ASEAN summit host

Pia Ranada
Do’s and don’ts for Duterte, first-time ASEAN summit host
As host of the international summit on April 28, President Duterte can't be late and should stick to speech time limits

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has so far attended two international summits, but come Saturday, April 29, he will formally take on a new challenge: hosting an international summit for the first time.

On Saturday, the Philippines will hold the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Meetings – part of year-long activities arising from the country’s chairmanship of ASEAN this year.

The April 29 summit is the first ASEAN 2017 activity to be attended by heads of government. At 10 am on Saturday, Duterte will officially welcome 9 leaders to the event.

All eyes will be on the Philippine president as he makes his debut as summit host.

He’s raised eyebrows in international gatherings before. At the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summit last year, Duterte left a room full of country leaders “quiet and shocked” when he spoke angrily of United States atrocities in Mindanao. In the audience was former President Barack Obama. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru, he skipped the traditional leaders’ family photo.

As ASEAN Summit host, what are do’s and don’ts the President should keep in mind? What are his responsibilities?



1. Don’t be late

It would look strange if the host arrived at an event after his guests. Duterte, who has had a reputation for lateness since the campaign period, cannot be tardy for any of the activities. His schedule on Saturday begins at 10 am, the starting time of the official welcome ceremony for visiting country leaders. He is also hosting a 7:30 pm gala dinner. (READ: Schedule of activities: ASEAN 2017 Summit on April 26-29)

2. Don’t be absent

While Duterte said it was a “matter of principle” that he did not attend the ASEAN-US Summit in Laos in 2016, there can be no excuse for being absent this time around. 

“As chair, he cannot be absent,” said Chief of Presidential Protocol Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr in an interview with Rappler. 

He said that since the summit involves heads of government, only the President can chair a meeting since he is their equal. It would be a breach of protocol if Duterte, as he has done in some summit meetings, delegates the task to a lower-ranking official like the foreign secretary.

Duterte can’t be missing in action when ASEAN leaders pose for the traditional “family photo.”

3. Don’t speak for too long

Duterte may be fond of hour-long free-wheeling speeches. But in an ASEAN Summit, there’s just not enough time for this. At events with other leaders, all discussions have time limits, and talking points are prepared in advance. Leaders who would like to speak are given only 7 minutes. Far from having the freedom to talk all he wants, Duterte will be in charge of ensuring speakers stick to the time limit.

4. Don’t wear inappropriate attire

Denim jeans definitely have no place at the ASEAN Summit. Fortunately, Duterte has recently embraced the Philippine barong, albeit along with a habit of rolling up the sleeves.

About the President’s fashion sense for the summit, Paynor said: “It’s a personal style, but he is aware and his demeanor is proper so his attire is his personal choice. But when he conducts himself in front of leaders, he’s okay.”

THIS YEAR'S HOST. President Rodrigo Duterte attends the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summit in Laos in September 2016. Presidential photo


1. Do remember protocol from past summits

One thing going for the President is his participation in two other international summits. 

“He had attended the Laos ASEAN Summit and the Lima, Peru, APEC Summit. So he has a fairly good idea of how it is like from the other side of the bench,” said Paynor in a Palace news briefing.

His experience of seeing how other leaders hosted these events will guide him in how he conducts himself during the summit’s various activities.

2. Do remember briefings, readings 

For the past months, Duterte has been given briefings on the ASEAN Summit and ASEAN issues by the Presidential Management Staff, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and summit organizers.

In one recent briefing, Duterte supposedly quipped, “Oh, hindi lang pala ganoon kadali.” (Oh, it’s apparently not that easy.)

Paynor said the team has run the President through his schedule starting 9:30 Saturday morning until  the next day, when he and Indonesian President Joko Widodo inaugurate a new boat route in Davao City.

Duterte has also been given thick readings on a variety of issues important to ASEAN countries: economy, trade, security, the South China Sea dispute, among others. Good thing, said Paynor, Duterte “absorbs very quickly.”

“This is his first time, it’s expected that he does not know all the issues, but of the many issues, he has a fairly good grasp of these,” said Paynor.

3. Do build on rapport with ASEAN leaders 

When Duterte welcomes ASEAN leaders on Saturday morning, he’ll be welcoming familiar faces. He visited these leaders in their home countries during his Southeast Asian tour from September last year until January. (IN PHOTOS: How Duterte bonded with ASEAN leaders)

He has dined with them in their royal palaces and bonded with them in different ways. He sang a song with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and even went window-shopping with President Joko Widodo. 

From speaking with each of these leaders, Duterte knows their concerns and is familiar with issues they are likely to raise during the ASEAN Summit.

He should use his rapport with leaders and knowledge of their concerns to ensure agreements are reached during the summit. These agreements are one sure sign of the summit’s success.

4. Do stick to the script

Given the time limits for speeches and the complexity of issues to be discussed, the President should stick to scripts written for him. These scripts, prepared by his staff and the DFA, were written in such a way that follows protocols of the summits and covers all the topics Duterte will need to raise as chairman.



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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at