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MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. will represent President Rodrigo Duterte at an upcoming summit in May to be hosted by the United States with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez confirmed this in a recent Philstar column, stressing the importance of the Philippines’ participation in the gathering hosted by US President Joe Biden.
“Secretary Teddy Locsin will represent the President,” Romualdez said.
He added, “I have no doubt our participation at the summit will be very important for us since discussions will center on a wide range of areas of mutual interest and concern such as defense and security, future pandemic response, climate change, maritime cooperation, economic engagement, energy, digital technology, and strengthening people-to-people ties, among others.”
On Tuesday, May 10, Locsin departed for the summit. The Department of Foreign Affairs said he is expected to attend meetings with Biden, US Vice President Kamala Harris, US lawmakers, and members of the business sector.
Duterte earlier said he decided to skip the summit since it would be held from May 12 to 13, or only a few days after the Philippines holds elections to pick his successor. “I might take a stand that will not be acceptable to the next administration,” he said.
Romualdez said he understood Duterte’s position on the matter, adding that with a presumed president-elect by the time of the summit, Duterte “was being prudent, opting not to attend out of delicadeza.”
The summit had initially been set for March 2022 but was postponed due to clashes in schedules of heads of state. At the time, the Russian invasion of Ukraine had also begun.
Discussions at the upcoming summit are a follow-up to Biden’s commitment of “personally showing up and reaching out to” Southeast Asia, as he reiterated in the first US-ASEAN meet in 2021.
Duterte said he was told that American officials wanted him to be there, but he remained firm in his stance not to go to the US “as a matter of principle.” Throughout his term, Duterte had often rejected invitations to travel to Washington over disdain for its politicians’ condemnation of his drug war.
But in September 2021, Duterte said he would consider visiting the US to show his gratitude for its COVID-19 vaccine donations to the Philippines.
Romualdez said the Biden administration’s efforts to reach out to the ASEAN was one thing the Philippines “appreciated.”
“Scheduling the US-ASEAN Special Summit in Washington, DC, this May is not only timely but important as well in underscoring the continued importance that the United States places on the region amid the growing crisis in Ukraine,” he said.
The summit will coincide with the 45th anniversary of ties between the US and the ASEAN. – Rappler.com