Punishing schedule awaits Duterte as Asean host

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ALL EARS President Duterte at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Da Nang, Vietnam. —AFP

Will President Rodrigo Duterte be able to endure two whole days of nonstop high level meetings?

The 72-year-old leader faces a punishing schedule on Nov. 13-14 when he chairs the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit and related meetings with the nine Asean heads of state and 12 other world leaders, including US President Donald Trump.

“The meetings on the first day will take 19 hours straight, so you can hardly fit in the bilateral meetings,” said a diplomat familiar with organizing the summit.

Known for his penchant for not following schedules, Mr. Duterte this time has to stick to the timetable so meetings and programs start and end on time.

“What we impressed on him is that every summit should last up to one hour, to one hour and a half. If one summit ends late, it will have a domino effect like what happened in Laos. We don’t want that to happen,” said the diplomat.

As the Asean chair this year, Mr. Duterte cannot afford to excuse himself from any of the meetings with the visiting world leaders as he had done during the Asean Summit in Laos in September last year.

Mr. Duterte did not attend two of the meetings in Laos—the Asean-US and Asean-India Summits—reportedly because he was “not feeling well.”

In April, Mr. Duterte hosted for the first time his nine Asean counterparts for the 30th Asean Summit.

He was apparently so fatigued afterwards that he joked about wanting to call off the bigger summit this month to avoid another punishing schedule.

Asean will reportedly implement for the first time a Philippine-proposed change in the format of the meetings between the regional bloc and its eight dialogue partners in separate meetings called Asean Plus One.

In the past all the leaders in the Asean Plus One summits delivered messages, resulting in a lengthy meeting.

This time, only the Asean leader who is assigned as country coordinator will deliver a speech on behalf of the bloc. Then the leader from the dialogue partner will give his remarks. As chair, Mr. Duterte may call on another leader to add his remarks.

“This is an improvement,” the diplomat said.

The Asean Plus One meetings scheduled on Nov. 13 are with the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and the United Nations. On Nov. 14, they will be with Canada, the European Union and India.

Mr. Duterte this time also has to avoid his penchant for going offscript and should deliver speeches as they are prepared.

He had set aside his prepared statement and gave an impassioned impromptu speech against the United States before 17 heads of state who attended the 11th East Asia Summit in Laos last year.

While Mr. Duterte has to follow his prepared speech as Asean chair, he may make last-minute changes once he speaks for the Philippines.

If Mr. Duterte cannot attend a meeting, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano will represent the President as the most senior Cabinet member.

But even the 47-year-old Cayetano has not been able to put up well with a grueling schedule.

When he hosted 27 foreign ministers in Manila in August, Cayetano excused himself from some meetings on the second day because he reportedly did not feel well.

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