By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
President Duterte is intending to taking a private plane and a leaner delegation in his visit to Singapore for the 32nd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit this week.
President Duterte will be joining the other nine ASEAN leaders in the summit in Singapore from April 27 to 28.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made the statement after it was reported that Duterte is doing away with taking a chartered commercial plane, a large delegation, the usual pre-departure and arrival speeches this week.
According to the Palace official, the President made the decision in order to save taxpayers’ money.
“To save money. It’s expensive to charter a plane and a leaner delegation would mean lesser cost for the taxpayers,” Roque said Mondaymorning.
“You know, the private plane is an eight-seater plane. So it’s a very small plane. It’s a two hour flight from Davao to Singapore so it’s not a long flight,” he added.
Roque also said that Duterte will be attending a leaders’ meeting so it was not necessary to bring so many people.
“It’s a leaders’ meeting that’s why he’s going but it’s not like the Summit that we hosted [last November, 2017]. The big summit will be when the turnover will happen. So, that’s why we’re also cutting on costs,” Roque said.
While the list of government officials joining the delegation is not yet confirmed, Roque said that Special Assistant to the President Christopher (Bong) Go, and probably a nurse, would be joining Duterte in the private plane.
“I think other than SAP Go, all the other people in the plane will be staff complement of the President including a nurse, you know things like that,” Roque said.
“So it’s a very small team that will fly with him and it’s a lot cheaper compared to chartering an entire Philippine Airlines plane,” he added.
However, Roque is unsure if Duterte will really not do the usual pre-departure and arrival speeches that a Philippine president does whenever he goes to visit a foreign country
“I saw a schedule so I am now confused because I am coming from here to Singapore so I will not be able to witness the departure statement,” Roque said.
Based on the official schedule of the President, Duterte is set to give a pre-departure speech in Davao City before leaving for Singapore on Thursday.
Duterte is said to discuss issues “close to his heart,” especially matters that affect the well-being of the people in the Southeast Asian region, during the Summit.
He will be speaking at two events — the Working Dinner on Friday, and the Leaders’ Retreat the following day. Duterte is also eyeing a bilateral meeting with the current ASEAN chairman, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), meanwhile, said arrangements are being made for the President’s meeting with members of the Filipino community (FilCom) in Singapore.
According to Roque, the FilCom event has always been one of the important parts of Duterte’s visit to any foreign country. This year, his last FilCom event was in Hong Kong last week where around 2,000 Filipinos were said to have attended.
“That’s always been an integral part of every official trip that President embarks on–a meeting with the Filipino community. So that’s really his way of communicating with our OFWs and I think it’s a good practice of the President,” Roque said.
“What else can I say other than it’s very much appreciated by the OFWs and the President conducts this meeting as a matter of course,” he added.
Roque also addressed criticisms on Duterte’s last FilCom event. Critics claimed that the event seemed to have become a sortie for the senatorial candidates of PDP-Laban.
During the last FilCom event in Hong Kong, personalities rumored to be eyeing senatorial slots in the 2019 polls went to the stage and addressed the audience.
The personalities were Roque, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Taguig Representative Pia Cayetano, Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, and Presidential Political Adviser Francis Tolentino. They also danced with the audience.
Roque defended the actions done by the personalities, saying they were only trying to please the members of the audience who were already in the event even hours before the President arrived.
“Ano naman ang mangyayari kung hindi kami magsasalita doon eh ang dami nang naka-assemble na tao? Nandoon na sila, ano’ng gagawin namin doo, magtitinginan (What should we do if not talk when there were already a lot of people there? Should we have just stared at each other)?” he said.
“So we were basically front acts for the President, what could we have done? ” he added.