1/3 of ASEAN 2017 budget devoted to security

MANILA, Philippines – Roughly 1/3 of the P15-billion budget for the hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) 2017 will be spent on ensuring the safety of delegates, including over 20 heads of state and heads of government.

"About a third," said Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr, ASEAN 2017 National Organizing Council Director-General for Operations, when asked in a Rappler interview how much of the funds would be devoted to security.

He admitted that security is the biggest expense in the hosting, given the number of VIPs expected to attend the various events.

"Biggest expense? Security. That's a particular area where you know you are waiting for the 0.1% that might happen but you pray will not, but you have to be prepared for it anyway, so you spare no expense," said Paynor, who is also Chief of Presidential Protocol.

A total of 119 meetings will take place in the country. Two of these events will be particularly heavy on security given the participation of heads of state or heads of government.

An April 29 summit will be attended by leaders of all 10 ASEAN member-states.

A November summit will be attended by over 22 VIPs – all 10 ASEAN states plus their dialogue partners, the heads of state or heads of government of the United States, Russia, India, China, Japan, Korea, European Union, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and East Timor, and the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

"The heads of government of all 21 [countries], we expect President [Donald] Trump to be here, the Prime Minister of India, the Prime Minister of Japan, for [China] it's the premiere so it's Li Keqiang," said Paynor.

The visits of these VIPs come at a time when a state of lawlessness persists in the Philippines, first declared by President Rodrigo Duterte last September after a deadly bombing in Davao City, which was found to have been the work of the Maute terror group. The group has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS).

Since then, there have been other terror incidents like the Leyte church bombing in December and the Maute group's occupation of Butig town in Lanao del Sur in November.

Paynor gave assurances that the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines, intelligence agencies, and other law enforcement agencies will be on full alert during ASEAN events.

It helps that the ASEAN 2017 organizers had also been involved in organizing other major security-sensitive events like APEC summits and the visit of Pope Francis.

Interior Undersecretary Catalino Cuy, a former police general, heads the ASEAN 2017 Committee on Security.

"I've worked with him a long time ago when he was still with the PNP, both for the APEC Summit 1996 and now this ASEAN Summit so I'm comfortable that he is very well on top of the situation," said Paynor.

In budget hearings on the ASEAN 2017 budget, it was found that a bulk of it would be spent on car rentals. Paynor said that such an expense is necessary for ensuring security.

"We are moving thousands of people from airport to hotels to conference sights to sightseeing tours so there's a whole lot of movement on the ground," he said.

'Paradigm shift' on security

The state of lawlessness has brought about a "serious paradigm shift" in dealing with security.

"There's a serious paradigm shift in terms of security, terrorism. Now, you can't say where it's coming from really so we have to be on the alert and just pray that nothing happens. We will do our best and hopefully, as in the past 3 multilateral summits we have hosted we can finish our chairmanship without any serious events happening," said Paynor.

Other aspects of the two major ASEAN summits could help ensure the safety of the high-profile delegates. The April summit will be held on a Saturday which would mean less traffic and less ground movement to deal with.

As for the November summit, which will have the most number of VIPs in attendance, the ASEAN NOC is working toward holding it in Clark, Pampanga. Aside from making it easier to ensure security, holding it in Clark would mean there will be fewer people whose day-to-day activities will be disrupted.

"If it's in Clark, we will not affect anyone because they arrive there, the airport's inside, we'll do the meetings inside Clark," said Paynor.

The Philippines is hosting ASEAN 2017 as part of its role as a member of the 10-member regional bloc that includes Singapore, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Brunei Darussalam. (READ & WATCH: Duterte launches 'people-centric' ASEAN 2017)

Each ASEAN country hosts the yearly summits and meetings once every 10 years. The last time the Philippines hosted was in 1996. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.