Rodrigo Duterte, the President of the Philippines, has skipped six out of eleven meetings so far at the ASEAN summit week in Singapore. Duterte’s absence sent rumors once again concerning the Philippine leader’s health, although his spokesperson was quick to assure the public that the President “had a fruitful and productive participation” in yesterday’s (November 14) activities and that he is “in top physical shape,” said Salvador Panelo.
Panelo, who is the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel as well, also said, “He took power naps to catch [up] on sleep.”
Here are the activities that Duterte missed: the ASEAN-Australia Informal Breakfast Summit, the ASEAN-Korea Summit, the Working lunch hosted by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the 2nd Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Summit and the cocktail reception for world leaders and their spouses on the evening of November 14, and the gala dinner that followed.
According to Panelo, “Last night, the President worked late and had only less than three hours of sleep. In those instances where he did not attend, namely, the ASEAN-Australia Informal Breakfast Summit, the 20th ASEAN – Republic of Korea Summit, the Working Lunch hosted by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Second Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Summit, he took power naps to catch on sleep.”
However, the President did attend the 21st ASEAN-China Summit, the 3rd ASEAN-Russia Summit, and the 21st ASEAN-Japan Summit, as well as a bilateral meeting with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsieh Loong, and witnessed the signing of the memorandum of understanding between the Eurasian Economic Commission and ASEAN on Economic Cooperation.
Panelo made light of Duterte’s absences at the meetings, saying, ”We assure the nation that his aforementioned absence has nothing to do with his physical health and well-being which have been the subject of speculation. The President’s constantly punishing work schedule is proof that he is in top physical shape.”
President Duterte, who is 73 years old, is well-known to be a late riser who starts working in the early afternoon. This is not the first time that he has done this. Last November, he opted out of the APEC gala dinner in Vietnam, as well as the one on the previous year, hosted by Peru President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. He also skipped the ASEAN-US meeting in September 2016, as well as several others.
Analysts, though, are concerned that the President’s absences may affect the Philippines’ relationships with other nations. Richard Heydarian, a resident analyst for media outfit GMA, said, “It’s also a question of lost diplomatic opportunity. No major direct consequence but clearly it won’t help us mend and strengthen ties with many countries, particularly in West, who have been worried about the human rights and democracy situation in the Philippines.”
And since the Philippines is the country coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue relations from 2018 to 2021, Heydarian said, “It doesn’t reflect well on the Philippines given we are that ASEAN-China country coordinate for next two years, which means we handle all crucial engagements between two sides, that’s 11 countries.”
“One would have expected that the President would have best deployed taxpayers money that supported his trip and contingent for conducting maximum amount of meetings with key interlocutors.”
Heydarian also felt that the excuse of ‘power naps’ does not hold water. “Power naps are usually 15 to 45 minutes, not missing six meetings.”
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