By Michael Lim Ubac, DJ Yap - AFTER battling flu and cold for a day, President Aquino left Saturday night for Cambodia to attend the 21st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit, where he will push for regional unity to counter China’s increasing aggressiveness in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The trip to Cambodia had hung all day, with Malacañang officials unable to tell reporters whether Mr. Aquino could get up and go.

His flight to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh was scheduled to depart Manila at 7 p.m., but all that Palace sources could tell reporters after noon was that he was resting.

Mr. Aquino had not been feeling well since Friday, when he failed to receive visiting International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Christine Lagarde.

Lagarde, whose courtesy call on the President was scheduled for 10 a.m., had to be diverted to the Coconut Palace on Roxas Boulevard to be received by Vice President Jejomar Binay.

But she showed up at the Palace’s National Executive Building after the call on Binay to brief reporters on the IMF’s rosy outlook on the Philippine economy.

When the President did not emerge from his house on Saturday, the trip to Cambodia seemed unlikely to go through.

But the presidential physician arrived around 3 p.m. and examined Mr. Aquino.

After some time, the decision came: the President was good to go.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Mr. Aquino had flu and allergic rhinitis—inflammation of the mucous membrane of the nose—which he might have caught during his trip to Occidental Mindoro and Tagaytay City on Thursday.

On Saturday, despite having fever and muscle pains, Mr. Aquino interviewed candidates for the vacancy on the Supreme Court until 5 p.m., Valte said.

“While the President’s doctors advised rest for at least two days to ensure full recovery and prevent a relapse, the President decided to push through with the trip,” Valte said.

“This is in light of the preparations already made and the importance of the gathering for the formation of a regional consensus to ensure stability and peace in Asean,” she said.

“The President also believes recent developments in other parts of the world requires dialogue among Asean and other leaders on the potential economic and security impact of these events on the region,” she added.

[PHOTO -President Benigno S. Aquino III is welcomed by Cambodian Minister for Education Im Sothy, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Philippine Embassy officials upon arrival at the VVIP Phnom Penh International Airport on Saturday night (November 17) to attend this year’s 21st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits from November 18 to 20. This year’s summit theme is “ASEAN: One Community, One Destiny” in preparation for an ASEAN community by 2015. (Malacañang Photo Bureau).]

Asean unity

Mr. Aquino is leading a 53-member delegation, including seven Cabinet officials, to the Asean summit, which has related summits, including between Asean leaders and US President Barack Obama on Monday.

Mr. Aquino is not meeting with Obama during the 7th East Asia summit. Malacañang has not released the President’s Asean schedule.

The President said on Thursday that during the summit he will call on Asean countries to speak with one voice in dealing with members’ territorial disputes with China in the West Philippine Sea.

He also said he would try to get mention of the Philippines’ specific disputes with China in the sea in the postsummit joint communiqué, which the Philippines and Vietnam failed to do during the Asean foreign ministers’ meeting in Phnom Penh in July because host and chair Cambodia, a China ally, blocked the effort.

The July meeting closed without issuing a customary joint communiqué, the first time it happened in the bloc’s 45-year history.

Code of conduct

Mr. Aquino was arriving in Phnom Penh at the heels of an agreement among Southeast Asian foreign ministers to proceed with discussions on the preparation of a code of conduct on the West Philippine Sea.

But the foreign ministers’ meeting set no time frame for the work on the code of conduct.

“We cannot specify the time frame because it depends on the process,” Cambodia’s Secretary of State Kao Kim Hourn told reporters in Phnom Penh.

The foreign ministers also agreed on the “full and effective implementation” of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, or DOC, that Asean signed with China in 2002.

The declaration is a nonbinding agreement that guides discussions among four Asean members—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam—and China on their rival claims to territories in the West Philippine Sea.

Earlier, the foreign ministers agreed to task Thailand with coordinating dialogues between Asean and China.

Human rights

Saturday’s meeting also agreed on the signing of the first Asean joint human rights declaration, though rights groups condemned the document as failing to meet international standards and as leaving the door open for countries to crack down on freedoms.

The Philippines succeeded in adding a clause to the document stating that the declaration would be implemented according to international standards.

But rights activists dismissed that change as meaningless because, they said, the document as a whole fell short of global standards.

The Asean Human Rights Declaration, which is not legally binding, begins with the principle that “All persons are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

It affirms that all citizens are entitled to equal protection by the law and that vulnerable groups such as women, minorities, disabled people and migrants have “inalienable” rights and freedoms.

But the declaration qualifies citizens’ rights by saying they must be balanced with the “performance of corresponding duties.”

It adds that human rights must be “considered in the regional and national context.”

The International Federation for Human Rights, a grouping of 64 activist organizations, said the declaration “tears at the heart of long accepted human rights precepts.”

“It flies in the face of the international consensus on human rights principles that have been in place for more than six decades,” the group said in a statement this week.

Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan acknowledged that the declaration had weaknesses, but said it still represented progress.

Palace: Aquino's Cambodia trip to cost P11M November 17, 2012 5:04pm

[PHOTO -President Benigno S. Aquino III shakes hands with Vice President Jejomar Binay during the send-off ceremony at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport]

President Benigno Aquino III's trip to Cambodia for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit will cost some P11 million, Malacañang said Saturday.

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said the amount also covers the participation of the 54-member delegation to related summits from November 18 to 20.

"The estimated cost of the presidential trip covers the delegation’s chartered flight to Cambodia, accommodation, transportation, food, and equipment and telecommunications requirements," the Presidential Communications and Operations Office (PCOO) said on its website.

“President Aquino’s participation in the regional meeting reinforces our firm commitment to promote cooperation, not only in terms of economic development, but also in maintaining peace in the region and protecting and enhancing human rights,” Ochoa added.

The PCOO said members of the 54-member delegation, aside from Aquino, include:

- Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario - Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima - Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin - Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo - Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras - PCOO Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. - Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan

Citing a news release from the Department of Foreign Affairs, the PCOO said the meeting's theme is “ASEAN: One Community, One Destiny.”

It said the summit is also expected to finalize the preparation for an ASEAN community by 2015.

Earlier, the DFA said Aquino will have meetings with his counterparts from ASEAN and leaders of the East Asian Partners (EAS) to further advance regional integration and cooperation in the dynamic East Asia.

At the leaders' meeting, he is expected to express the Philippines' position on maritime security and cooperation in the West Philippine Sea, and human rights and protection of migrant workers.

The DFA said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen will open the summit on November 18 with the official launching of the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which establishes an ASEAN-led process for engaging the regional bloc's dialogue partners.

It added the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD), envisioned as the ASEAN's articulation of its human rights principles, is also up for signing during the regional conference in Cambodia. — LBG, GMA News

Aquino vows to do the talking in Cambodia By Michael Lim Ubac Philippine Daily Inquirer 3:55 am | Friday, November 16th, 2012


MANILA - This time, President Benigno Aquino will do the talking in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and he will insist that Southeast Asian nations take a common stand on territorial disputes with China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Mr. Aquino leaves for the Cambodian capital Friday to attend the 21st plenary session of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) that observers expect will be dominated by a raft of territorial rows.

The two days of annual talks will be preceded on Sunday by a summit of the leaders of the 10 Asean countries, which have struggled to forge a united stand on China’s claims to the West Philippine Sea.

Speaking to reporters in Tagaytay City Thursday, Mr. Aquino said all 10 members of Asean should speak with one voice at the summit, which would be attended by leaders from East Asian countries and Asean dialogue partners China, the United States, Canada, India and the European Union.

US President Barack Obama will be there, too, but he and Mr. Aquino have no scheduled meeting during the summit.

But Mr. Aquino and the other Asean leaders are hoping Obama will support them in their efforts to contain China, which is flexing its economic and military muscles to assert its claim on the West Philippine Sea, where islands and islets, reefs and atolls are believed to be sitting on vast oil and gas reserves, and which is home to sea-lanes vital to global trade.

Firmer consensus

Mr. Aquino said the Philippines wanted to have a firmer consensus to hasten the signing of a code of conduct for the West Philippine Sea and the implementation of the Declaration of Conduct on South China Sea.

The President noted that Asean included four countries with some overlapping claims to islands and waters in the West Philippine Sea—the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Nonmember Taiwan also has claims to territory in the West Philippine Sea.

Asean also includes Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Burma, Singapore and Thailand.

Mr. Aquino said tensions flared last summer as soon as the Philippines announced a service contract for exploration of the sea so “there should be clear-cut policies to achieve stability.”

“We can talk to the other claimants that aren’t Asean members, but since we want to maintain Asean centrality, we must have just one voice in Asean… in this regard,” Mr. Aquino said.

The Philippines and Vietnam have this year expressed growing concern at what they perceive as increasingly aggressive tactics by China in staking its claims to the sea.

China insists it has sovereign rights to nearly all of the waters and has refused to discuss the territorial disputes with Asean as a bloc, insisting on one-on-one talks with its rivals.

Panatag standoff

From early April to mid-June, Chinese and Philippine ships faced off at Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), a resource-rich area on the Philippine side of the sea.

At about the same time, China made a show of force in the Paracels Islands on Vietnam’s side of the sea, building a military garrison on Woody Island and sending a large fishing fleet accompanied by patrol vessels to the area—all in response to Hanoi’s enacting a maritime law that asserted Vietnamese sovereignty over the Paracels.

With Washington keen to assert itself as a Pacific power and counter a rising China, Obama is expected to be “quite vocal” on the sea rows, said Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

Obama is likely to reiterate that the United States has a fundamental interest in freedom of navigation in the sea, while urging Asean and China to agree on a code of conduct for the area, according to Ian Storey, a regional security analyst of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

Asean had hoped to negotiate a code of conduct this year governing behavior in the disputed waters but progress stalled when Asean foreign ministers had a falling out over the maritime issue at a ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh in July.

Cambodia, the current Asian chair and a close China ally, refused to allow Hanoi and Manila to mention specific run-ins with Beijing over the sea, preventing the group from issuing a joint communiqué for the first time in its 45-year history.

“Cambodia will be keen to avoid a repeat of the July fiasco,” said Storey, but he warned that Phnom Penh “won’t support any move on the West Philippine Sea by its Asean partners that would annoy China.”

Storey and Pavin agreed there was little chance of a code of conduct being successfully negotiated at the upcoming talks but there would be an effort to show parties were looking for diplomatic solutions.

Manila Declaration

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario reiterated the Philippines’ commitment to a peaceful resolution of the territorial disputes as the country marked the 30th-year anniversary of the Manila Declaration.

Thirty years ago Thursday, the UN General Assembly adopted the Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes, a document initiated by the Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico, Egypt, Nigeria, Romania, Sierra Leone and Tunisia.

[PHOTO -President Benigno S. Aquino III emerges from the plane and was welcomed by Philippine Ambassador to Cambodia His Excellency Noe Wong upon his arrival and Cambodia Ministry of Foreign Affairs Protocol Department director Prak Nguon Hong at the VVIP Phnom Penh International Airport on Saturday night (November 17) to attend this year’s 21st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits from November 18 to 20. This year’s summit theme is “ASEAN: One Community, One Destiny” in preparation for an ASEAN community by 2015. (PLDT powered by SMART). (Malacañang Photo Bureau).]

In a statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Del Rosario stressed the Philippine stand of resolving international disputes through the rule of law and without the use of force, as embodied in the 1982 declaration.

Diplomats often refer to the declaration when discussing territorial disputes closest to home, in the case of the Philippines, the country’s territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea.

Del Rosario and Vietnam’s foreign minister argued for the mention of their countries’ specific disputes with China in the West Philippine Sea in the customary joint communiqué but Cambodia blocked their efforts.

Asked if he would try to get the Philippines’ brushes with China in the sea on Asean record in Phnom Penh, Mr. Aquino said: “Well, we will go after that.”

He added: “We have unity within Asean. But every country will have to weigh its interest and be guided by each country’s interest, as we are being guided by our country’s interest.”

East Asian disputes

A row between China and Japan over rival claims to islands in the East China Sea, which has severely shaken diplomatic and trade ties between the Asian powers this year, is also expected to cast a shadow over next week’s talks.

In yet another territorial dispute, Japan is at loggerheads with fellow US ally South Korea, whose President Lee Myung-bak angered Tokyo with a surprise visit to a disputed island chain in the sea between the two countries in August.

Lee and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda are planning to hold their first formal talks since the spat erupted on the sidelines of next week’s meetings, Kyodo News said this week, citing Japanese government sources.

But traditional trilateral talks between the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea are not expected to occur because of the tensions.

On the economic front, Asean members are set to launch negotiations over a giant free trade zone with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The 16 nations account for roughly half the global population and around a third of the world’s annual gross domestic product.

Asean, which marks its 45th founding anniversary this year, is moving toward a single economic community by 2015. With reports from Tarra Quismundo and AFP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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