Press Briefing

Pre-departure Briefing of Department of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Junever Mahilum-West on President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s Participation to the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Thailand

Event Pre-departure Briefing
Location New Executive Building, Malacañan Palace


ASEC. MAHILUM-WEST: Magandang umaga ho and good morning to all the ladies and gentlemen of the press. Maayong buntag sa atong tanan.

I’m pleased to provide an overview of the President’s visit to Bangkok to participate in the 34th ASEAN Summit which will take place on June 22-23.

The Summit will be attended by the heads of government and states of all ASEAN Member States, all 10 of them. And we will give you later a listing of the heads of state. But the chair of this year’s summit is Thailand, headed by Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

The President will be accompanied by the secretaries of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Industry, Social Welfare and Development, Finance, Transportation, Tourism, and Agriculture. In all, a total of seven secretaries.

ASEAN’s Theme for this year is: Advancing Partnership for Sustainability which calls for ASEAN to be more effective in responding to the changing global and regional architecture.

To be better prepared for the fourth industrial revolution, to be more integrated through enhanced connectivity in the region, and to be focused on sustainable development.

There will be several important events for the Philippines during the summit, namely: first, the Summit Plenary; second, the Gala Dinner for the leaders; third, the Leaders’ Retreat, and fourth, the 13th BIMP-EAGA Summit.

At the plenary session on June 22, the leaders will discuss ASEAN Community building under the theme: Advancing Partnership for Sustainability. And there will be a retreat of the leaders during which they will exchange views on ASEAN’s external relations and the way forward, as well as significant regional and international issues.

This will be the President’s third visit to Thailand since assuming office. His previous visits were in November 2016 and in March 2017. The President will leave Thailand on June 24.

That concludes my briefing and I open the floor to possible questions.


Q: Good morning ma’am.

ASEC. MAHILUM-WEST: Good morning.

Q: Ma’am, to confirm, will South China Sea matters be taken up?

ASEC. MAHILUM-WEST: Yes. Under the agenda item regional and international developments, South China Sea will be on the agenda and the leaders are going to exchange views on this issue.

Q: Will the Philippines in particular be bringing up the incident at Recto Bank, considering that it might have implications on the crafting of…

ASEC. MAHILUM-WEST: The Code of Conduct.

Q: Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

ASEC. MAHILUM-WEST: Well, as you know the Philippines is coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue partnership from 2018 to 2021, for three years. And during this coordinatorship, we are negotiating ASEAN Member States and China on the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, on the South China Sea.

And in these negotiations, incidents like what happened to our fishermen will be among those on the agenda, during the negotiations.

And pwede ho namang ano — during the exchange of views on regional developments, there is an opening to raise these issues. Because incidents like what happened, emphasized the importance of having a Code of Conduct so that we could avoid, we could prevent these incidents from happening in the future.

Q: Thank you ma’am.

Q: Good morning Asec. Are there any scheduled bilateral talks with other ASEAN leaders po?

ASEC. MAHILUM-WEST: There are a couple of bilateral meetings but I still do not want to divulge them because they’re still being arranged as of the moment. But there’s a couple that we are arranging.

Q: Ilan po kaya ‘yung ine-expect natin na bilateral talks with President Duterte po?

ASEC. MAHILUM-WEST: Here we go again. Well, at the very least a couple. At the very least.

Q: Thank you po.

Q: Hi, ma’am, good morning. Ayee Macaraig from Agence France-Presse. Ma’am, you mentioned that there is an opening to raise the Recto Bank issue. In particular, is the Philippines planning to raise it considering that we have filed a diplomatic protest and do we intend to ask ASEAN to take a stand on the issue given that a member state, Vietnam, was also involved, and that its boat rescued our fishermen? Thank you.

ASEC. MAHILUM-WEST: Thank you for the question. As I’ve said, on the agenda would be regional and international developments under which the South China Sea could fall. But also there are pending major factors that we have to wait for.

For one thing, there is this investigation that’s ongoing, that up to the present discloses a certain fact that we did not know before. Also, we lodged a strong protest with China and we are awaiting China’s response to this.

So in the meantime that these major factors are pending, I think it would be premature of me to — premature of me to say that we will raise the issue at the summit.

Q: On a related note, ma’am, you mentioned the Code of Conduct. Could you give us an update on the negotiations? Or is there any major progress that you’re expecting in this particular summit? And if you could elaborate on how the code could avoid similar incidents as what happened in Recto Bank. Thank you.

ASEC. MAHILUM-WEST: Well, prior to the summit, the joint working group between the ASEAN Member States and China have been negotiating on a single draft negotiating text and they have made progress, and they expect to have the first reading finished by end of this year. So to be followed by several readings, one or two readings afterwards.

And your last question was the code and the incidents like what happened in Recto Bank. As I’ve said before, it’s precisely why we need a code so that this incidence could be taken on board and we would have a guideline for countries in the region on how to behave, on how to act in order to prevent these incidents that caused some — that might cause tension in the region.

No questions on the Philippine priorities in this summit?

Q: Please do ma’am.

ASEC. MAHILUM-WEST: Yes, well — if I may just mention there will be 16 outcome documents during the summit, four of which are to be adopted by the leaders. So these four include the ASEAN leaders’ vision on partnership for sustainability.

So sustainability is a big thing during Thailand’s chairmanship this year. The second one is the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris in the ASEAN Region.

The third is ASEAN leaders’ statement on the ASEAN Cultural Year for 2019. So this year is the ASEAN Cultural Year.

And we expect perhaps once all the arrangements are done, there might be one on the ASEAN Indo-Pacific Outlook.

Q: Ma’am, any chance to — for the President to meet the Filipino community sa Thailand?

ASEC. MAHILUM-WEST: From what I’ve heard, the schedule is very hectic but I would leave that to the — our embassy in Bangkok to answer. I haven’t heard of any Filcom meeting being arranged because of the hectic schedule.

Q: Thank you, Asec.

ASEC. MAHILUM-WEST: Because aside from the summit meetings, we also have the bilateral meetings to arrange.

Q: Thank you, Asec.

Q: Hi ma’am. Ma’am, ano po ‘yung mga possible gains na pwede pong ma-gain po ng bansa natin sa ASEAN, especially doon po sa mga projects po ng government like the Build, Build, Build project?

ASEC. MAHILUM-WEST: Well, I’m glad you asked that question because our membership in ASEAN is very important to us because it is only in ASEAN that we partner with our closest neighbors in order to have sustainable growth and also to have peace and security in the region.

And aside from sustainable growth, we also work with our partners in ASEAN in order to achieve — not to forget regional integration, community building within ASEAN and this is for the benefit of Filipinos and other ASEAN peoples.

And — ano na nga ba ‘yung second question? Build, Build, Build, yes. We are linking our Build, Build, Build program to the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025 and we would like to find synergies there and complementarities.

So we are linking up ASEAN through infrastructure — infrastructure projects but also connectivity also pertains to people-to-people relations and dealings of countries.

So it’s not only the physical infrastructure to bolster our connectivity but people-to-people relations. So it’s a whole range of activities that we are undergoing to strengthen ASEAN Connectivity.

Q: Asec, on trade. Does the Philippines expect progress on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership — RCEP Asia-wide trade pact? Should it — could it be signed this year? And do you think it’s gaining importance now that there’s a trade war between the US and China?

ASEC. MAHILUM-WEST: Yes, the RCEP is gaining importance because of the trade friction between China and the US and we hope that RCEP would be concluded by this year. We hesitate now to say that we conclude it by the summit, you know a definite deadline, because when we don’t meet the deadline, then you know our credibility is a little bit questioned. So by this year, we hope that RCEP would be concluded.

Q: Different topic. Ma’am, you mentioned earlier there’s a Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris. Does this at all relate to the recent issue of Southeast Asian countries protesting being turned into garbage dumps by developed nations? We’ve seen the Philippines take a stand on this, Malaysia and also Indonesia. Is this something that will be discussed in ASEAN?

ASEC. MAHILUM-WEST: In very broad terms, yes. The environment, you know, protecting our surroundings from garbage. That is being handled by the whole range of officialdom of ASEAN. So marine debris is right now a very important topic because this also spans boundaries — transboundary issue ito.

And I remember reading that there was a group of scientists who went to the — that went to the South China Sea and they found plastic debris while they were diving. So it’s talagang region-wide and it needs collaboration by everybody to solve.

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SOURCE: PCOO-PND (Presidential News Desk)