Duterte skips ASEAN summit events

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 14) — President Rodrigo Duterte did not attend several meetings at the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Singapore on Wednesday.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the President was not able to make it to 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.

Panelo added Duterte would also be missing the Gala Dinner Wednesday night.

In photos shared on social media by Singapore's 2018 ASEAN Chairmanship, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddy" Locsin Jr. was shown attending the events for Australia and South Korea.

In a statement, Panelo said too much unnecessary fuss was being made over Duterte's non-appearance at the meetings.

He said the President worked late on Tuesday evening and had only three hours of sleep.

"It is unfortunate that the first event scheduled today was at 8:30am," he said.

Panelo added the President took "power naps" in the instances where he did not attend to catch up on sleep.

"In important gatherings of the ASEAN members with dialogue partners, such as where Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the group, the President attended and expressed the country's sentiments and stand vis-a-vis the three aforesaid leaders' remarks," he said.

Panelo, however, clarified the President would be attending the bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday.

"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," he said.

In a tweet, former Philippine diplomat Jojo Lacanilao said the President's absence was an insult to other world leaders attending the events.

"This is not to mention the lost opportunity for the country because of his absence in the meetings," he added.

The President, however, was present for the ASEAN-China summit.

 

During the meeting, ASEAN and China said they want significant progress in the South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC) in a year's time.

"ASEAN and China have seen steady progress in the initial phase of the COC negotiations since the announcement of a Single Draft COC Negotiating Text, and looked forward to the completion of the first reading of the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text by 2019,"according to the ASEAN-China common statement read by President Duterte.

In a chance interview before the start of the summit, Duterte told reporters he wants to tell China that the COC must be signed "at all cost."  The COC will identify what the states can and cannot do in the contested waters.

Duterte made the statement as he admitted that the rising tension between China and U.S. worries him.

CNN Philippines senior producers Pia Garcia and Eimor Santos contributed to this report.