Manila ramps up security ahead of Asean summit

Members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force stand guard in front of armoured vehicles stationed near the venue of the coming Association of South East Asian Nation summit.
Members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force stand guard in front of armoured vehicles stationed near the venue of the coming Association of South East Asian Nation summit. PHOTO: REUTERS
Members of the Philippine National Police stand guard with their shields for possible protest rallies near the venue of the coming Association of South East Asian Nation summit in Pasay City, Manila, Philippines on April 24, 2017.
Members of the Philippine National Police stand guard with their shields for possible protest rallies near the venue of the coming Association of South East Asian Nation summit in Pasay City, Manila, Philippines on April 24, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - The Philippines has spared no expense as Asean chair to bolster security ahead of the regional grouping's summit in Manila this week.

Over 40,000 security personnel have been deployed and some 2 billion pesos (S$56 million) spent as part of security measures against possible attacks by Muslim militants and protests by leftist groups.

The 30th Asean Summit meetings starting on Wednesday (April 26) will see the grouping's foreign ministers meet on Friday and culminate in the leaders' summit on the last day, Saturday.

"We have rehearsed and fine- tuned all our systems and procedures for this event... We have established a full backup system that will address any unforeseen situation that may arise," national police chief Roland de la Rosa said on Monday.

He said the 170,000-strong police force has been placed on the highest alert, adding that all "possible avenues of approach" by terrorists are already being monitored.

Manholes have been sealed, speed bumps removed, and jails holding suspected terrorists searched as part of security preparations.

Military spokesman Restituto Padilla told reporters: "We don't see any serious threat on the radar screen, but our planning is always based on worst-case scenarios... Adequate preparations and plans are laid down to meet these scenarios."

Asean leaders, including Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, will attend Saturday's summit. Myanmar will be represented by Foreign Minister and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

"Saturday will be a very long day... (President Rodrigo Duterte) is ready," said Philippine Ambassador to the United States Marciano Paynor, who is director-general for operations of the Asean 2017 National Organising Council.

President Duterte is playing host for the first time since he took office on June 30 last year.

"I think this year's Asean chairmanship will cement Mr Duterte's position as the new face of Asean... and the new face of Asean is that of a strongman, a charismatic, populist leadership focused on fighting crime," said political analyst Richard Heydarian of De La Salle University.

The final agenda of the leaders' summit has yet to be finalised, according to Mr Paynor. But he told a news briefing last week that tensions on the Korean peninsula and disputes over the South China Sea would be on the agenda.

Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario said Manila should take the opportunity presented by the summit to discuss an international arbitration tribunal's ruling on a case filed by the Philippines that rejected China's claims to the South China Sea. The contentious issue has in the past prevented Asean from reaching a consensus.

China's claims are being challenged by Asean members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Taiwan is also a claimant.

"We must not accept the position that China's South China Sea build-up is a fait accompli that renders us helpless," said Mr del Rosario, who led efforts to win the case.

Mr Duterte has set aside the ruling as he steers the Philippines closer to China.