AFTER battling flu and cold for a day, President Aquino left Saturday night for Cambodia to attend the 21st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit, where he will push for regional unity to counter China’s increasing aggressiveness in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The trip to Cambodia had hung all day, with Malacañang officials unable to tell reporters whether Mr. Aquino could get up and go.
His flight to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh was scheduled to depart Manila at 7 p.m., but all that Palace sources could tell reporters after noon was that he was resting.
Mr. Aquino had not been feeling well since Friday, when he failed to receive visiting International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Christine Lagarde.
Lagarde, whose courtesy call on the President was scheduled for 10 a.m., had to be diverted to the Coconut Palace on Roxas Boulevard to be received by Vice President Jejomar Binay.
But she showed up at the Palace’s National Executive Building after the call on Binay to brief reporters on the IMF’s rosy outlook on the Philippine economy.
When the President did not emerge from his house on Saturday, the trip to Cambodia seemed unlikely to go through.
But the presidential physician arrived around 3 p.m. and examined Mr. Aquino.
After some time, the decision came: the President was good to go.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Mr. Aquino had flu and allergic rhinitis—inflammation of the mucous membrane of the nose—which he might have caught during his trip to Occidental Mindoro and Tagaytay City on Thursday.
On Saturday, despite having fever and muscle pains, Mr. Aquino interviewed candidates for the vacancy on the Supreme Court until 5 p.m., Valte said.
“While the President’s doctors advised rest for at least two days to ensure full recovery and prevent a relapse, the President decided to push through with the trip,” Valte said.
“This is in light of the preparations already made and the importance of the gathering for the formation of a regional consensus to ensure stability and peace in Asean,” she said.
“The President also believes recent developments in other parts of the world requires dialogue among Asean and other leaders on the potential economic and security impact of these events on the region,” she added.
Mr. Aquino is leading a 53-member delegation, including seven Cabinet officials, to the Asean summit, which has related summits, including between Asean leaders and US President Barack Obama on Monday.
Mr. Aquino is not meeting with Obama during the 7th East Asia summit. Malacañang has not released the President’s Asean schedule.
The President said on Thursday that during the summit he will call on Asean countries to speak with one voice in dealing with members’ territorial disputes with China in the West Philippine Sea.
He also said he would try to get mention of the Philippines’ specific disputes with China in the sea in the postsummit joint communiqué, which the Philippines and Vietnam failed to do during the Asean foreign ministers’ meeting in Phnom Penh in July because host and chair Cambodia, a China ally, blocked the effort.
The July meeting closed without issuing a customary joint communiqué, the first time it happened in the bloc’s 45-year history.
Code of conduct
Mr. Aquino was arriving in Phnom Penh at the heels of an agreement among Southeast Asian foreign ministers to proceed with discussions on the preparation of a code of conduct on the West Philippine Sea.
But the foreign ministers’ meeting set no time frame for the work on the code of conduct.
“We cannot specify the time frame because it depends on the process,” Cambodia’s Secretary of State Kao Kim Hourn told reporters in Phnom Penh.
The foreign ministers also agreed on the “full and effective implementation” of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, or DOC, that Asean signed with China in 2002.
The declaration is a nonbinding agreement that guides discussions among four Asean members—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam—and China on their rival claims to territories in the West Philippine Sea.
Earlier, the foreign ministers agreed to task Thailand with coordinating dialogues between Asean and China.
Saturday’s meeting also agreed on the signing of the first Asean joint human rights declaration, though rights groups condemned the document as failing to meet international standards and as leaving the door open for countries to crack down on freedoms.
The Philippines succeeded in adding a clause to the document stating that the declaration would be implemented according to international standards.
But rights activists dismissed that change as meaningless because, they said, the document as a whole fell short of global standards.
The Asean Human Rights Declaration, which is not legally binding, begins with the principle that “All persons are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
It affirms that all citizens are entitled to equal protection by the law and that vulnerable groups such as women, minorities, disabled people and migrants have “inalienable” rights and freedoms.
But the declaration qualifies citizens’ rights by saying they must be balanced with the “performance of corresponding duties.”
It adds that human rights must be “considered in the regional and national context.”
The International Federation for Human Rights, a grouping of 64 activist organizations, said the declaration “tears at the heart of long accepted human rights precepts.”
“It flies in the face of the international consensus on human rights principles that have been in place for more than six decades,” the group said in a statement this week.
Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan acknowledged that the declaration had weaknesses, but said it still represented progress.