Duterte absent at ASEAN-UN Summit

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 14) — President Rodrigo Duterte was absent at the 9th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United Nations.

Presidential aide Bong Go told CNN Philippines Duterte was still at a bilateral meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev which was running late.

Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar also told CNN Philippines in a text message that “the meetings were already running beyond schedule.”

“So, to avoid further delaying the ASEAN-UN Summit, it was decided that [the Secretary of Foreign Affairs] represent the President while he was meeting bilaterally with the other leaders,” Bolivar said.

This was confirmed by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque,  also citing the President’s “full schedule Monday night.


Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano ended up presiding over the meeting with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

In his opening remarks, Guterres did not mention the controversial war on drugs, but reiterated the UN’s support for the fight against terrorism and commended the Philippines’ “efforts toward peace.”

“I am heartened by the recent liberation of Marawi from ISIS,” he said.

The summit with the UN,  originally scheduled at  8:15 p.m. Monday, was one of the last items on the ASEAN agenda after a series of meetings with the United States, China, South Korea, and Japan -- all of which Duterte presided over.  The summits came one after  the other after the ASEAN plenary session at 10:00 a.m.

It also followed bilateral meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and South Korean President Moon Jae-In.

In a previous schedule provided to the press, the bilateral meeting between the Philippines and Russia was slated for 11:00 p.m.

Duterte was present at the ASEAN Plus Three Summit, which gathers the ten member states, China, Japan, and South Korea, on Tuesday morning.

Four UN Special Rapporteurs urged ASEAN to address "pressing human rights issues" in the region during the summit. The United Nations has raised concern about Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, as well as the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar.

Related: Myanmar 'open to assistance' for Rohingya, planning repatriation

Guterres also raised the issue in his opening remarks, saying the UN welcomed “constructive approaches” by ASEAN.

"I cannot hide my deep concern with the dramatic movement of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh," he said. "Addressing the underlying issues by implementing the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine will also be critical to reverse this tragedy."

The commission, led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, released a report recommending specific actions to address the issue – including citizenship verification, rights and equality before the law, and documentation.

Duterte also skipped the ASEAN-UN Summit in Laos last year.

Duterte has strained relations with the UN, after slamming its officials for their criticism of his war on drugs. Recently, he invited the  UN's human rights body to set up an office in the country to monitor killings in the Philippines.

CNN Philippines correspondent Ina Andolong and digital producer Chad de Guzman contributed to this report.