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All set for Asean summit

US Vice President Mike Pence is accompanied by Philippine Permanent Representative for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Asean Elizabeth Buensuceso during a meeting at the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta on April 20. Pence is currently on a tour of South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Australia that is aimed at smoothing some of the rougher edges of US President Donald Trump’s rhetoric. AFP

MANILA, Philippines - Enough security measures are in place for the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit on April 26-29 at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City, Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa said yesterday.

“It’s all systems go,” Dela Rosa said in an ambush interview when asked about security preparations for the ASEAN summit. “We are very much prepared for this event.”

At least 26,000 policemen would be deployed to ensure the security of world leaders in attendance.

Dela Rosa earlier said they have not have not detected any specific threat from the Abu Sayyaf.  His assurance came weeks after 10 Abu Sayyaf bandits engaged law enforcers in gun battle in the tourist island of Bohol. ASEAN ministers are meeting in Panglao, Bohol late this month. President Duterte has offered P1-million bounty for each of the Abu Sayyaf bandits who eluded authorities in Bohol.

“We have been receiving texts saying they were sighted in the mountains,” Dela Rosa said, citing information from residents on the possible whereabouts of the Abu Sayyaf.

The National Capital Region Police Office also said everything is in order, security-wise.

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“Our security preparations are so far so good. Our intelligence community monitored no terrorist threat against the event,” said NCRPO chief Director Oscar Albayalde.

He said there’s no need for foreign embassies to issue travel advisories as the 28,000-strong NCRPO is on top of the situation.

Since April 18, the NCRPO and other units of the PNP have been conducting simulation exercises to ensure ASEAN leaders would be ferried to and from the summit venue in the shortest time possible.

“So far we see no problem in securing the event,” said Albayalde. “What is critical for us is the travel of the 10 heads of states to the venue and back to their hotel which we are trying to cope with.”

Albayalde said they would impose a road lockdown along Diokno Ave. from April 28 to 30, as he urged the public to keep away from the area for their own safety and convenience. Delegates to the summit have started arriving while leaders are expected to arrive on April 28 or the eve of summit proper.

Emmanuel Miro, operations head of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) task force ASEAN, said Diokno Avenue and  Jalandoni, V. Sotto, A. Dela Rama and Bukaneg streets in Pasay City have been designated as ASEAN lanes.

Miro also told motorists to expect “intermittent stops” on Arnaiz and Makati Avenues and Parkway Drive in Makati City, which have also been designated as ASEAN lanes.

The MMDA will enforce a “stop and go” rule along ASEAN lanes, meaning they are closed to motorists only when delegates are using them.

Trump visit lauded

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), meanwhile, welcomed yesterday US President Donald Trump’s confirmation of his visit to the Philippines to attend a summit with ASEAN leaders in November.

“We welcome the announcement made by US Vice President Mike Pence that US President Donald Trump will participate in the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the ASEAN-US Leaders’ Summit to be hosted by the Philippines in November,” DFA spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said.

Pence made the announcement during his visit to the ASEAN headquarters in Jakarta last Wednesday.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit Manila in August to prepare for the meetings, the US State Department said.

Trump will also attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Vietnam, the US official said.

Pence said the Trump administration would work with ASEAN on security issues, trade, and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

“If he is coming, it would be good for the country, for all of us,” President Duterte earlier said.

Duterte has been likened to Trump as both leaders are fond of using inflammatory remarks, which their respective spokespersons and Cabinet officials would later clarify.

In a previous speech in Doha, Qatar, Duterte said Trump told him that “I was doing right” in the fight against illegal drugs.

Duterte had cursed Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama on several occasions for criticizing his drug war.

Obama cancelled his meeting with Duterte during the ASEAN summits in Laos in September last year.

Ambassador Marciano Paynor Jr., director-general for operations of the ASEAN 2017 national organizing committee, earlier said they expect 100 percent attendance in the ASEAN meetings.

In Washington, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia Patrick Murphy said Tillerson will have a working session in Washington on May 4 with ASEAN foreign ministers to discuss challenges and opportunities in the region prior to their more formal ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Manila.

Murphy said the visit of the two top officials to the Philippines underscores the importance of the region to the Trump administration.

In reply to a query on President Duterte’s war against drugs, Murphy said the President’s objectives to end the sale and use of illegal drugs “are one many of us share” including the United States

“We not only sympathize but we want to help” in such matters as rehabilitation and stopping the flow of drugs across borders.

But Murphy emphasized extrajudicial killings in connection with the drug war were troubling and urged the Duterte administration to follow up on its commitment to thoroughly investigate these deaths.

The US would continue to raise this issue privately and publicly with the Duterte administration, he added.

EAS comprises the 10 ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam), and dialogue partners Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, the United States and Russia. – With Helen Flores, Jose Katigbak, Robertzon Ramirez, Non Alquitran

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