Updated 16:52 PM PHT Sat, September 10, 2016
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — All eyes will be on the Philippines and President Rodrigo Duterte when the country hosts the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summits and related summits next year.
At Thursday's closing ceremony of the 28th & 29th Asean Summits in Vientiane, Laos the ASEAN chairmanship was formally turned over to the Philippines.
It will be the third time the country will be hosting the regional meet, after it was held in Manila in 1987 under President Cory Aquino and in Cebu in 2007 under President Gloria Arroyo. The bloc's chairmanship rotates annually, in alphabetical order of the names of ten member-states.
Duterte announced the ASEAN 2017 theme will be "Partnering for change, engaging the world."
In accepting the ASEAN chairmanship, the President said, " "We will highlight ASEAN as a model of regionalism and a global player, with the interest of the people at its core."
Former ambassador and foreign affairs undersecretary Lauro Baja Jr. said the chairmanship is always a good opportunity for the host country not just to tackle the usual regional political, security and economic issues but also to priotize its own interests.
"I suppose President Duterte would highlight his favorite topics, anti-drugs, terrorism, Asean unity and I hope we will be able to move on West Philippine Sea, South China sea," Baja said.
"I think were were silent on that in Vientiane."
Baja was referring to ASEAN leaders' silence on the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague in July, rejecting China's claims on the South China Sea. There was no mention of this in the chairman's statement issued after the two-day summit in Laos.
ASEAN leaders, as in previous summits, expressed concern over developments in the South China Sea and called for peaceful resolution of disputes.
2017 marks the ASEAN's 50th founding anniversary. The Philippines is one of its five founding members, with Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Aside from the summits, the Philippines will also be staging events to celebrate the anniversary.
Baja added, with the series of ASEAN events in 2017, President Duterte may get the chance to further explain his government's anti-drug campaign in the wake of international criticisms over alleged human rights abuses.
But Baja was quick to remind Duterte: "I hope he tempers his….no not his mouth, his pronouncements."
"If we do it right and if we prepare, if we are well-versed in international practice and diplomacy this could mean a lot for Philippines," he added.
Apart from member-states, leaders of ASEAN'S dialogue parters like the U.S., China and Japan are also expected to attend the summits.
The Office of the President (OP) has already proposed a budget of P15.4-billion for ASEAN-related activities in 2017.
Budget secretary Benjamin Diokno, during a congressional hearing explained this was why the OP's allocation went up by more than 600%, but he stressed the budget would be distributed to five agencies.
Aside from OP, the departments of Tourism, Interior and Local Government, Trade and the Presidential Communications Office will also get a share of the ASEAN budget.