MANILA—Due to recent events, the Philippines has beefed up security preparations in Bohol, where an ASEAN trade meeting is underway, and in Manila ahead of the 30th ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings which will be held from April 26 to 29, an official said Wednesday.
In a press briefing in Malacañang, Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr, ASEAN 2017 National Organizing Council (NOC) Director-General for Operations, said security has always been the top priority of organizers given the participation of heads of states and other top government officials in the various meetings and summits throughout the year.
“Philippine hosting of ASEAN in 2017 is a total number 137 meetings, two summits, 17 ministerial meetings, 42 senior officials meetings, and 76 technical working group meetings,” Paynor said.
But due to the recent incident in Bohol, security preparations has become a special concern even among delegates.
Last week, suspected Abu Sayyaf members engaged government troopers in a gunfight in Inabanga town that resulted to the killing of six suspected members of the bandit group, three soldiers, and one policeman.
The area is some 71 kilometers from the capital Tagbilaran City and the adjoining Panglao Island where ASEAN traders are attending the Intercessional Regional Economic Partnership Trade Negotiating Committee from April 19 to 21.
“When the incidents unfolded last week, we, of course, had an emergency meeting and as part of the NOC, we have a Committee on Security and Disaster Preparedness. So they went to Bohol, I did go also and we had a brief meeting,” Paynor said.
He said the Security Committee felt that the situation has been contained and therefore, the meeting should go on adding that “it was natural, of course, for some of the Embassies to ask us our plans.”
“We have, of course, alternate plans and that meeting would have been held here in Manila had it been necessary to do so. But we always say we will not be coerced or held hostage by these actions. But at the same time, we need to be sure that we can assure the safety of the delegates. So as of now, the meeting is a go,” Paynor said.
As for the upcoming leaders’ summit in Manila, the official said that their number one priority is to have a sense zero-incident type of meeting.
“It’s very difficult to prepare for something that you are not really totally and fully aware of. So we try as much as we can to hardened venues… in our security preparations, keeping in mind also the President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive that we should not hamper or hinder the normal flow of daily activities here in the Metro Manila area,” he said.
“So we’re doing all that and because of this most recent incident, we are beefing up our security elements,” Paynor said.
The April and November summits will be particularly heavy in terms of security.
The April 29 summit to be attended by leaders of all 10 ASEAN member-states.
Meanwhile, the 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.
Paynor said that they expect 100 percent attendance in these sort of multilateral meetings.
He said that even US President Donald Trump is expected to attend.
“As of now, President Trump for instance, when President Duterte called him up to congratulate him, had already indicated that he was coming in November. So at least verbally he said he was coming. I am almost sure that the nine other ASEAN member states will also be coming back in November,” he said.
“The usual dialogue partners — Japan, Korea — China, Japan, Korea, I am sure, Australia and New Zealand, they have never missed any of these meetings. So there will be one or two who may not be able to come but this is because of let say internal issues with their individual countries,” Paynor said.