DECEMBER 11, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - President Arroyo appealed yesterday for "understanding’’ from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) after the sudden postponement of the bloc’s annual summit due to typhoon worries.

"The Philippines is responsible for the safety and well-being of the summit participants in the face of inclement weather,’’ Mrs. Arroyo said in a statement.

Philippine organizers of the 12th Asean summit and the wider East Asia summit decided on Friday to postpone the twin events in Cebu to January next year due to the approaching typhoon "Seniang" (international code name Utor). The events were originally scheduled tomorrow. Consultations were underway to fix a date, but a foreign affairs official said Jan. 8-13 was being proposed as the new date.

The decision to reschedule the meetings came a day after the US, Britain, and Australia advised their citizens to avoid Cebu due to possible terror attacks.

It also came amid looming widespread protests over attempts by Mrs. Arroyo’s allies in Congress to force the convening of a constituent assembly without the Senate.

"Our responsibility to the Filipino people also lies in preparing to the best we can for the possible onslaught of another strong typhoon,’’ Mrs. Arroyo said.

"We are concerned for the leaders and they are also concerned for our people,’’ she said. "I thank the leaders for their understanding and support.’’

"There is a consensus to postpone the meeting because of the typhoon, but a strong impetus to return at the soonest possible time,’’ Mrs. Arroyo said.

The Chief Executive met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who expressed disappointment over the postponement of the summit.

"The Japanese prime minister said he understood why such decision was made,’’ Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said.

He said Abe was not sure if he could make it in January as no date had been set yet.

No consultation

Local organizers of the 12th Asean summit did not consult members of the regional bloc when they decided to postpone the summit, diplomatic sources said yesterday.

"Only the Philippines decided. The ASEAN members were not consulted on the postponement,’’ one of the sources said, debunking claims by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo and ASEAN-Philippine National Organizing Committee chairman Marciano Paynor Jr. that there was a consensus among ASEAN members regarding the postponement.

Romulo said he was responsible for recommending the postponement but stressed he did not give the go-signal.

The postponement was announced just as delegates and ministers were starting to arrive in the country. Abe, in fact, arrived Friday night or just hours after the announcement.

Some officials were even in the middle of drafting major documents for signing by ASEAN leaders when the decision was announced.

The postponement, another source said, cast doubts on the country’s political stability and on its capability to host a gathering of world leaders.

A source also said it would be too presumptuous for the Philippines to expect that the summit would finally push through in January.

"That’s too presumptuous of us to say. We can’t say the summit will be held in January because we have to consult all participants. You’re confirming they will agree on January but what about their own schedules?’’ he asked. "This is entirely a new ball game,’’ he said.

At a press conference at the Shangri-la’s Mactan Island Resort and Spa, Romulo said moving the summit to January was a "collective decision.’’

"There’s a general agreement there. What we have to decide is the consultation of specific dates. It’s the desire of the foreign ministers and senior officials here to come to a consensus within a week’s time,’’ Romulo said. "The train is moving and we don’t want delays in the train.’’

"All of those present expressed full support for the decision of the Philippine government as host country and in consultation with all those concerned, to move the dates of the Cebu summits,’’ he added.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council, for its part, said it did not recommend the postponement of the summits but had only advised the government of the coming typhoon and the areas likely to be affected.

Sixteen presidents or prime ministers were scheduled to arrive in Cebu before organizers called off the Asean and the East Asia summits at the last minute.

The planned meeting of foreign ministers from ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea was also scrapped late Friday.

Indicating a hasty exodus, only four ASEAN foreign ministers attended a breakfast meeting yesterday.

"The threat of a terrorist attack was one part (of the reason),’’ a foreign affairs official, who declined to be named, said.

House Minority Leader Francis Escudero said separately he did not believe typhoon-related fears caused the postponement.

Mike Clancy, one of the organizers of an ASEAN business and investment forum on the sidelines of the political events, said political leaders and ministers were not believed to have been in danger.

"The real fear was an incident on the fringes of the summit and that fear was very real,’’ he told AFP without elaborating. — Pia LeeBrago, Perseus Echeminada, Jaime Laude, AFP, AP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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