(STAR) By Aurea Calica - The limelight will be on Cebu starting today as foreign and economic ministers from countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia gather to tackle several international agreements.

The Southeast Asian bloc’s first-ever legally binding agreement on counter-terrorism is one of several key deals due to be signed during the Jan. 11 to 15 meetings.

ASEAN is also expected to announce a blueprint for establishing the group’s charter and try to move up plans for a regional free-trade zone by 2015.

The related East Asia summit, which brings together ASEAN and six other nations — Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea — will look to make progress on establishing energy security across the region.

Nine foreign ministers, including those from Japan and Korea; five trade ministers; two senior officials; and an economic minister from Thailand are scheduled to arrive in Cebu today.

The foreign ministers include Win Nyan of Myanmar, George Yeo of Singapore, Dato Seri Syed Hamid Albar of Malaysia, Dr. Nur Hassan Wirajuda of Indonesia, Namhong Hor of Cambodia, Thonglun Sisoulith of Laos, Nitya Pibulsonggram of Thailand, Katsuhito Asano of Japan, and Song Min-soom of South Korea.

Also arriving are Trade Ministers Tha Soe of Myanmar, Lim Hng Kiang of Singapore, Dato Seri Rafidah Aziz of Malaysia, Nam Viyaketh of Laos and Kim Hyun-chong of South Korea; Singapore senior official Peter Ho and Thai senior economic official Krirk-Krai Jirapa-et.

The rest of the foreign ministers participating in the summit are scheduled to fly in tomorrow, along with five heads of state and President Arroyo.

Foreign and economic ministers will hold consultations before the 10-member ASEAN summit on Saturday, followed by meetings of ASEAN leaders with their regional counterparts on Sunday and Monday.

Organizers said more than 1,000 local and foreign journalists are expected to cover the summits.

The ministers had largely finished their work before the postponement of the summits was announced last month, and organizers said more than half of the proposed agreements had been signed and more than 40 of the 92 meetings held.

Among key resolutions to be adopted is a legally binding Convention on Counterterrorism.

A draft calls on the nations to improve cross-border cooperation to prevent attacks, share intelligence and training, curb terror financing and rehabilitate convicted terrorists to prevent repeat attacks.

The summit is also expected to endorse energy security goals for the region that seeks to reduce its dependency on oil imports from the Middle East. Among them, ensuring a stable energy supply through investments in regional infrastructure, such as an ASEAN power grid and a gas pipeline, and exploring models for stockpiling fuel.

The 40-year-old bloc, which began liberalizing trade in goods in 1993, aims to become a single market and production base by 2020. But some members want the ASEAN free trade area realized by 2015 to ensure the region stays competitive and catches up with China.

High-profile advisers from the Eminent Persons Group, led by former President Fidel Ramos, will submit recommendations to ASEAN leaders for the radical changes in a long-overdue charter they are planning to draft.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary and director general for ASEAN affairs Luis Cruz said the "blueprint" for the ASEAN charter might be finished for the leaders to assess and adopt in Singapore, where the summits would be held later this year. — Pia Lee-Brago, AP

Cebu stages successful dry run, security test ahead of summit

The Philippine Star 01/10/2007

CEBU — Brand-new limousines that will ferry 16 heads of state rolled out of government depots in Cebu yesterday as the hosts made final security preparations ahead of two international summits later this week.

Defying his own government’s travel advisory and giving a psychological boost to the image of the twin summits, Australian Prime Minister John Howard will attend the East Asia summit next week, his spokesman said yesterday.

With police cars and outrider escorts’ sirens blaring, dozens of the luxury cars stopped mid-morning traffic on the Philippines’ number-two city as security officials traversed main roads between major venue sites and hotels to be used for the meetings.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit and the larger East Asia summit were originally scheduled for early December last year, but they were rescheduled ostensibly due to a typhoon and amid warnings by key western governments of an imminent terrorist attack in Cebu.

"It (dry run) went off without a hitch," ASEAN Task Force chief Deputy Director General Antonio Billones said as he monitored the phased arrival of the convoys on the front steps of the Cebu International Convention Center, a key venue.

A police rescue helicopter flew low overhead.

A second dry run was staged late yesterday, before the ministers of ASEAN members Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam as well as those of regional trading partners Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand arrive, Billones added.

Foreign and trade ministers will start arriving today, while the leaders begin flying in on Thursday, officials said.

"We’re doing this to make sure everything will be okay," Press Undersecretary Roberto Capco said.

As the first of the convoys arrived, workmen stopped painting colorful Mondrian-style rectangular patterns on the driveway in front of the main entrance and stacked their pails of paint in a pile.

Capco described the repaint job as cosmetic, insisting that the main repair work had been done on the $11.2-million facility that had leaked embarrassingly when Cebu first tried to stage the summit last month.

In December, rain poured through the lighting fixtures and other places in the roof, even dumping water on the lone X-ray machine that was put in place to screen bags and parcels.

"Work on all the venues have been completed. What is important is all the people expected are here," he said, describing the hosts’ feelings as "like somebody expecting his wife to give birth to a baby."

Australia, Britain and Canada still have travel warnings issued on Cebu, citing possible terrorist attacks, but the government said there were no valid threats to the summit.

While the ministers and leaders will meet behind closed doors in the luxurious surroundings of the Shangri-La resort on Mactan island, more than 40 separate meetings including the East Asia group will be held at the convention center.

Defying terror threats

Howard’s own government has renewed a travel advisory warning citizens against visiting Cebu, but the prime minister will fly there on Sunday, the spokesman said.

In a statement late Monday, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade urged travelers to exercise a high degree of caution when traveling in the Philippines, and avoid Cebu province altogether.

"Recent information suggests terrorists are in the final stages of planning attacks," it said. "We continue to receive credible reports that terrorists are planning attacks against a range of targets, including places frequented by foreigners," possibly targeting Manila, Mindanao and Cebu.

President Arroyo assured Asian leaders Monday that security was in place to prevent attacks during a series of meetings that kicks off this week with the ASEAN summit.

"As we face the ASEAN summit, we would like to assure all our allies in East Asia and beyond that the Filipino soldiery and people are on watch every hour of the day, determined to do their share to defeat terror for a more secure and safer world," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said the meetings in Cebu "will sustain the momentum in our collective fight against terror and in mopping up all forms of instability" that affect the region.

Her statement came after troops killed six al-Qaeda-linked militants in a maritime clash in Mindanao.

During his visit to Sulu province Monday, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said there is no basis for Australia’s renewed warning, saying that the military’s continued "all out" operations in Mindanao have kept the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Abu Sayyaf on the run.

"We are not in a situation the Australians have pictured us to be," he said, adding that Mrs. Arroyo was satisfied with the results of Oplan Ultimatum, the military’s campaign to put terror groups on the run.

He also said they have not monitored any concrete plans "to bring terrorist activities to Cebu during the summit."

"We are prepared. It is our source of confidence that we are able to secure not only the venue of the event itself but that we are able to apply pressure in areas where these terrorists are expected to come from," Esperon said.

He said they have deployed over 5,000 troops, including Army, Navy and Air Force personnel, for the Cebu event and "we have not pulled out anyone since the summit was canceled last month."

Esperon said under Oplan Ultimatum, the AFP has linked with the Philippine National Police and other agencies concerned with securing the ASEAN summit, as well as with the intelligence network of other ASEAN nations and the US.

He said the AFP has also tried to improve security in other places, such as Bohol and Boracay Island, that ASEAN delegates are expected to visit.

"If there would be terrorists who would penetrate our security preparations in Cebu, they would come from Mindanao," he said.

Esperon said this is the reason behind holding the command conference in Jolo, which was attended by Mrs. Arroyo, the military’s commander-in-chief and concurrent defense secretary.

Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo said Mrs. Arroyo’s presence has bolstered the morale of soldiers hunting down Asia’s most wanted JI bomber, Dulmatin, who goes only by one name.

Sulu Gov. Benjamin Loong said local government units and village leaders are helping pinpoint the whereabouts of terrorist leaders.

"The people are now confident of the law and order, and have been feeling the presence of security (forces). That is why they do not hesitate in helping locate the terrorists," he said.

Legal team formed

The head of the ASEAN summit security said yesterday a legal team was formed in the event the checkpoints and stricter security measures being implemented for the event will be questioned.

Leo Alvez said security teams assigned at checkpoints were instructed to be more courteous.

"The traditional checkpoints are provided and our instruction is more on behavioral, for them to be more courteous. We have a legal team to prepare for issues that’ll arise (over these) checkpoints," he said.

Alvez added that cameras were installed along roads to help the police and the military ensure the safety of all delegates during the two summits.

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said national and local governments will be implementing stricter security measures.

The government is confident that travel warnings against Cebu will not affect the attendance of all the leaders who will participate in the summit.

Philippines-ASEAN National Organizing Committee Secretary General Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr. said measures are already in place for the security of ASEAN leaders and officials and their dialogue partners.

The 32-kilometer no-fly zone and the 70-km space restricted zone covers the Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Base in Lapulapu City, the airport area and different venues of the summit such as the Shangri-La’s Mactan island resort in Lapulapu City, the convention center in Mandaue City, the Waterfront Hotel and Casino and the Marco Polo Plaza in Cebu City.

Alvez said the no-fly zone does not cover commercial airlines but only small aircraft that operate within Cebu, such as small cargo planes and those operated by flying schools. — Roel Pareño, Edith Regalado, Pia Lee-Brago, AFP, AP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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