Philippines’ top diplomat gets COVID-19, to skip ASEAN meetings

Sofia Tomacruz
Philippines’ top diplomat gets COVID-19, to skip ASEAN meetings

Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo in an interview on March 10, 2017.

LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

It is also unclear if Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo can still meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is set to visit Manila on August 6

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo announced on Monday, August 1, that he will be unable to attend upcoming meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) scheduled to take place this week in Cambodia, after testing positive for COVID-19. 

While no stranger to the regional forum, Manalo, who was expected to attend the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Wednesday, August 3, would have done so for the first time as the Philippines’ top diplomat. 

Manalo said he tested positive for COVID-19 “early this weekend.”

“This would have been my first ASEAN engagement in my capacity as Secretary for Foreign Affairs, so it is unfortunate that my absence happens at this important time,” Manalo said.

Manalo gave assurances that the Philippines would still be present in the meetings, represented by Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and ASEAN Affairs Theresa Lazaro.

Upcoming meetings among foreign ministers of the ASEAN are the first to take place in-person in over two years, following the spread of COVID-19 in early 2020. Aside from the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting, top diplomats in the region are scheduled to meet with their counterparts from China, the Republic of Korea, Japan, United Kingdom, United States, India, Canada, Australia, European Union, New Zealand, and Russia. 

As current country coordinator of ASEAN-EU affairs, the Philippines has also been designated as co-chair of a conference to be held between both groups. Manalo, as secretary of foreign affairs, would have co-led the meeting and will now be represented by Lazaro. 

The DFA earlier said Manalo was expected to raised the 2016 Arbitral Award and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and draw focus on ASEAN centrality, as well as priorities for post-pandemic recovery. 

“I will concentrate on recovery so I can go back to working at DFA as soon as possible, and I look forward to the next opportunity to meet with ASEAN colleagues and our Dialogue Partners,” Manalo said. 

Plans for Blinken’s visit?

While Manalo will be unable to physically attend ASEAN meetings within the week, it is not year clear if the DFA chief will be able to meet US State Secretary Antony Blinken, who is scheduled to undertake an official visit on August 6. 

DFA Spokesperson Ambassador Teresita Daza said Manalo tested positive on Sunday, July 31, and is expected to take an RT-PCR test sometime within the week. 

In response to queries, Daza said that preparations for Blinken’s visit were ongoing and that Manalo’s attendance will depend on his results and recovery. A State Department readout said Blinken was scheduled to meet with Manalo and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. 

Blinken’s upcoming visit to the Philippines is the first by a US State Secretary since former state secretary Mike Pompeo’s visit in 2019. 

During that trip, Pompeo had clarified the US’ position on the scope of its Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines, saying it covered the South China Sea, giving its longtime ally timely reassurance amid China’s increasingly aggressive activities in the waterway. The statement has since been repeated by top officials of the US, including Blinken, in various forums. –

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at