MANILA – The upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila will tackle the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute among other issues, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Wednesday, April 19.
In his first press conference, new DFA spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said: "The leaders will be discussing regional and global issues of concern. We expect that the South China Sea will be among the topics discussed, among others – North Korea, for instance, terrorism, countering violent terrorism."
Whether Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte "will be the only one initiating" the discussion on the sea dispute "remains to be seen," said Bolivar, a veteran diplomat who replaced now Ambassador-designate to Malaysia Charles Jose as DFA spokesman.
The 30th ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings will be held in Manila from April 26 to 29 this year.
Duterte will lead the summit as the Philippines this year chairs the 10-member regional grouping.
In relation to the sea dispute, one of the Philippines' main objectives is to lead ASEAN in crafting a framework code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.
The Philippines aims to finalize the framework COC by the middle of this year.
Bolivar explained that ASEAN has held two working group meetings on the framework COC – first in Bali, then in Siem Reap.
He said there will be no such "formal" working group discussions in Manila on the sidelines of the 30th ASEAN Summit.
Still, Bolivar said in a text message, "The progress on the discussions on the framework may be discussed if any of the leaders bring it up."
'The best of the Philippines'
In Wednesday's press conference, Bolivar also explained the significance of the upcoming ASEAN Summit.
"Ito 'yung pagkakataon natin na ipakita 'yung pinakamaganda tungkol sa bansa natin, to show the best of the Philippines," the DFA spokesman said. (This is our chance to show the most beautiful things about the Philippines.)
Bolivar also said that chairing ASEAN has an "income generation aspect" in towns, cities, and provinces because around 150 international meetings will be held across the Philippines.
"Minarapat ng national organizing council na ikalat 'yung mga meetings kung saan saang bahagi ng bansa para buong bansa, ma-showcase natin during our chairmanship," he said.
(The National Organizing Council found it best to spread the meetings in different parts of the country so that we can showcase the whole country during our chairmanship.)
During the Philippines' chairmanship, another major event will be the meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in May.
Bolivar said Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo will fly to Washington DC in May for the ASEAN-US Foreign Ministers' Meeting.
The DFA is eyeing a bilateral meeting between Manalo and Tillerson on the sidelines of the ASEAN-US Foreign Ministers' Meeting, Bolivar said.
The Philippines received the ASEAN chairmanship from Laos, the host of the ASEAN Summit in 2016.
Under the Philippines' chairmanship, ASEAN is also marking its 50th anniversary.– Rappler.com