Superstars of the 31st Asean Summit


World leaders who drew attention in PH visit
As world leaders planed in one after the other in Clark and Manila for the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit last weekend, global attention turned to the Philippines and hit its peak, not only for the results of the official inter-continental meetings, but also because of the multiple sidelights that made presidents and prime ministers more famous—or infamous—in the eyes of the Filipinos and the rest of the world.

As such, The Sunday Times Magazine looks back at the week that was, when President Rodrigo Duterte, on behalf of the nation, successfully hosted a very diverse assembly of heads of states—from the world’s super power, to the region’s most conservative leaders—allowing them their moment in the spotlight.

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The Philippine President embodies Filipino hospitality in hosting the Asean Summit

To be sure, the Philippines’ own leader emerged as a rock star throughout the 31st Asean Summit even as he visited Brunei, Vietnam and Japan before the official weeklong hosting unfolded on home ground.

In embodying the Philippines’ world-renowned hospitality in hosting 21 world leaders in total, Mr. Duterte nonetheless stood his ground on issues he believes are of utmost importance to his people, earning the respect of his counterparts, regardless of controversies that hound his policies and administration.

And like a true celebrity, he even relented to singing a few lines of his favorite song during one of the summit’s social functions, making a fan, no less, of the US President himself.


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Justin Trudeau’s viral selfie with delighted customers of a fast food chain in Tondo PHOTO BY FACEBOOK/JOLLIBEE

Known easily as one of the best-looking heads of state, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s arrival in Manila quickly went viral on Sunday after he visited a women’s clinic in Tondo and a popular Filipino fast food chain.

His images holding babies at NGO Likhaan Center for Women’s Health and having selfies with surprised customers at Jollibee in North Harbor, both in Tondo, are definitely the winners of the Asean Summit sidelights.

Even as his impressively organized detours drew mixed reactions from the public—some branding them as PR stunts against the unresolved issue of Canadian garbage illegally dumped in the country—no one can deny that Trudeau is a superstar beyond his celebrity good looks.

And for his final bow, the Prime Minister made news as the only visiting head of state to take up the issue of human rights with President Duterte. In turn, Mr. Duterte said he told Trudeau raising the twin issues was “a personal and official insult.”


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The US President gives a standing ovation and resounding applause for the 300-plus Filipino performers at the Asean gala dinner

Whether you like him or not, there can be no doubt that US President Donald Trump was and is the biggest star of them all. Even with the adoring fanbase Canadian President Justin Trudeau had already established in the Philippines since first visiting in 2015, all eyes were on Trump because he is who he is.

Set aside his homecoming speech at the White House on Thursday where he mispronounced Mr. Duterte’s name as “Duarte,” Filipinos were especially flattered over his unabashed appreciation for the grand production of local artists at the 50th anniversary gala dinner at SMX Convention Center on November 12.

Giving some 300 Filipino musicians, dancers, singers and OPM bigwigs a standing ovation and endless applause, the US President could not help but raise his fists up to share in their moment of triumph.

Meeting Asean leaders on Monday, Trump lauded President Rodrigo Duterte and the host country for the world class event.

“The show last night was fantastic. Thank you. And you are fantastic also,” he complimented the Philippine President. He added at a separate bilateral meeting that he and other leaders had a “tremendous time” at the gala dinner.


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Cambodian Prime Minister Hu Sen finally meets Filipina celebrity Marian Rivera; here with husband Dingdong Dantes and welcome dinner host Pampanga Representative and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo INSTAGRAM PHOTO

Many Filipinos are familiar with Cambodia’s Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. As an archaeological wonder it is one of the most popular tourist spots in Asia.

But the country’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held the position since 1998, is not among those easily recalled, until top Filipino actress Marian Rivera announced that the esteemed leader had requested to meet her during the welcome dinner in Clark, Pampanga on November 11.

According to the TV and movie actress, GMA Network has successfully aired a number of her most popular soap operas in Cambodia, among them “Marimar,” Dyesebel” and “Carmela,” earning her a huge following in the neighboring country, which apparently includes Hun Sen. And for that, the prime minister is definitely a superstar in Rivera’s books, and no doubt, in many Filipinos’ too.


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Whether or not Jacinta Ardern emerged as a superstar during the summit, she definitely looked good in her barong ensemble; welcomed here by President Duterte and partner Honeylet Avanceña

The 40th and youngest Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern also holds the distinction as the world’s youngest female head of state at the age of 37.

Blessed not only with impressive achievements, she also has that celebrity factor Filipinos quickly take a liking to with her long wavy hair and million-watt smile.

However, it seems she will mostly be remembered by Filipinos for describing the Barong Tagalog as “scratchy,” “quite starchy,” and “[smelling]of piña husks” to New Zealand’s media, with one website in effect, dubbing the national wear as a “silly shirt.”

To be sure, Ardern made the most of her visit by strengthening Philippine-New Zealand relations. She witnessed several agreements signed between the two countries, most notably the Memorandum of Agreement involving flag carrier Philippine Airlines and Tourism New Zealand; and in a speech recognized the Philippines’ contribution to their economy as the 15th largest export market for dairy products, wood and paper pulp.

Perhaps had she been less accommodating of trivial questions regarding her experience in wearing the host country’s national wear—which in fact looked very good on the lady prime minister—she could have well cemented a superstar status in these islands.


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The Summit’s quotable quotes

Japan’s third-longest serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe will always be remembered as the first world leader who personally congratulated President Duterte for winning the May 2016 elections, as well as the first head of state to visit and dine (with his wife Makie Matsuzaki) at Mr. Duterte’s humble residence in Davao City. Friends indeed, he said during his Asean Summit visit, “Only two weeks ago, I welcomed President Duterte in Japan. I’m so grateful for the warm hospitality as I see him again here in Manila. I am also delighted to see again the Asean leaders here. I’d like to pay my tribute to the success of Asean as an entity to lead the regional cooperative frameworks while accomplishing an outstanding economic development.”

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one of world leaders with the most number of followers on social media. He has 36.8 followers on Twitter and 43 million on Facebook. He uses both platforms to post pictures of his activities and thoughts on issues. His visit to the Manila for the 31st Asean Summit was the first for an Indian head of state in 36 years since Indira Gandhi visited in 1981. Of it he said, “My participation in symbolizes India’s commitment to continue deepening relationship with Asean Member States, in particular, and with the Indo-Pacific region, in general, within the framework of my Government’s Act East Policy.”

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Premier Li Keqiang represented mega power China at the Asean Summit in Manila. Expressing his joy over the improving relationship between China and the Philippines, he described the two nation’s friendship to be “as warm as the weather in Manila.”

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Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loon
On Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte turned over the chairmanship to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. As he received the gavel, he said, “We live in a rapidly changing world, to keep Asean a central and dynamic driving force that can deal with the challenges and opportunities, Singapore’s chairmanship focuses on the themes of resilience and innovation.”

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50 years of interconnectedness

Comprised of 10 countries, the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) was preceded by the Association of Southeast Asia, with only the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand initially. In 1967, the foreign ministers of these three countries signed the Asean Declaration, commonly known as the Bangkok Declaration.

The first Asean Summit was held in Bali, Indonesia in 1976 which then saw the members signing a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and a Declaration of Concord.

Growing bigger, Brunei joined the Asean next; followed by Vietnam, and Laos and Burma (Myanmar) in July 1997. The last to join was Cambodia when its government attained stability in 1999.

After the East Asian financial crisis in 1997, the proposal to call for better integration of economies of the member-countries was revived, resulting to the “Asean Plus Three” with China, Japan and South Korea.

Expanding to an even larger East Asia Summit (EAS), with the organization awarded the status of “dialogue partner” to the United Nations (UN), the regional bloc became Asean Plus Six with Australia, New Zealand and India joining.

At the 6th EAS in 2011, the United States and Russia were included. Besides the said platforms there is also the Asean Regional Forum – a formal, official, multilateral, dialogue in the Asia-Pacific region which includes Canada and the European Union.




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