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Friday, September 22, 2023

The biggest show in town

The talks – in the formal sit-down meetings/summits and in the one-on-ones, invariably touched on terrorism/extremism, security, inclusive globalization, the danger posed by North Korea’s nuclear program and the international drug menace.

For most of the world leaders in attendance, it was an excellent opportunity to further deepen relationships with their counterparts and to establish mutual admiration clubs.

For Donald Trump, his two-week Asian swing, was a welcome respite from increasing attacks at home, including those coming from fellow Republicans. For President Rodrigo, it was an excellent opportunity to convey the gratitude of the Philippines to countries who helped during the Marawi siege (read that as China which donated an assortment of rifles) and now are pledging financial support (read that as Japan and the US) for the city’s rehabilitation.

Donald Trump, apparently well briefed by Ambassador Sung Kim on how to massage Duterte’s ego, kept heaping praises on Rodrigo, all the while saying nary a word about EJK.

It worked! The flattered Rodrigo reciprocated by singing “Ikaw” during the gala dinner for the world leaders “upon orders of the US commander-in-chief.” Indian President Modi hailed the Philippines as a “services powerhouse”. Rodrigo seized the occasion to discuss further imports of India’s cheap medicine. The President did not specify, however, if the payment will be in “five gives”.

PR wise, crowd favorite Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hit the ground running by stopping by a Jollibee store and posing for groupies with self-proclaimed members of Team Trudeau Philippines . He later dropped by the Lihkaan, a center for women in Tondo, where he had himself photographed carrying a baby girl.

Ok na sana. However, the media-genic Trudeau failed to stop while he was ahead. In a later press interview, Trudeau committed the mortal sin of mentioning the “E” word. Rodrigo’s response was swift. He expressed extreme displeasure, saying he was both personally and officially insulted by Trudeau’s interference in purely internal affairs.

The reaction from the DDS (not Davao Death Squad) was equally strong. Duterte Diehard Supporters wasted no time bashing Trudeau in social media, even reminding Trudeau about his unfulfilled promise (made during the Apec summit two years ago) to deal with the illegal shipment of Canadian garbage which found their way to the Philippines.

In fairness, Trudeau did not single out the Philippines. He also took a dig at Myanmar, urging a just solution to the Rohingya crisis. Nobel Laureate Auu Sang Suu Kyi, all the while, has steered away from discussing the issue, drawing flak from international community for her silence.

Almost everybody had a good word for the welcome dinner prepared by Chef Jessie Sinchiongco. But New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern felt uncomfortable wearing the Filipiniana, finding it “scratchy”.

Cambodia’s Hun Sen, one of the longest serving Prime Ministers in the world today, did not keep secret his admiration for Marian Rivera, whose telenovelas are smash hits in Cambodia.

Rivera and husband Dingdong Dantes got to meet Hun Sen during a pre-summit welcome dinner hosted by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The Asean Summit did produce some commitments – two of which are very relevant to the Philippines.

First, an agreement on a framework to come up with a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. Second, an agreement to protect migrant workers which will ultimately benefit 200,000 OFs in the region.

On the day the heads of state started arriving for the Asean Summit, the police reportedly arrested three suspected ASG terrorist bombers in Barangay Culiat, Quezon City.

According to the PNP, they were tipped off by members of the Muslim association of the said barangay. News of the arrest, however, was made known only after the delegates had already left town.

During the summit itself, the authorities reported relatively minor incidents, including one involving ‘pasaway” movie actress Maria Isabel Lopez who deliberately intruded into the Asean express lane.

Skirmishes with militants were marred by the use, for the first time, of the “sonic weapon”. Called the Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), the device can cause extreme hearing discomfort, and possible permanent ear damage. It was first used against Somali pirates and later in the 2009 G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

As expected, the demonstrators condemned the use of the sonic weapon as “fascistic”.

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