ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
RCEP takes center stage in ASEAN Bohol meeting
The recent firefight between government forces and a terrorist group in Bohol has not deterred delegates of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and their dialog partners from discussing the planned Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
The focus is on the RCEP, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez told GMA News Online. RCEP is a free trade agreement between the 10 ASEAN member states and six dialog partners that include Australia, China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea and New Zealand.
Bohol is also hosting the ASEAN-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement meeting on April 18 to 22 in Panglao Island, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Lopez said security assessments showed the Abu Sayyaf group that fought with government forces last week was few, and the situation was placed under control by authorities.
"And then, on the other hand, may security naman," the Cabinet official said.
Earlier on Monday, Foreign Affairs spokesman Robespierre Bolivar confirmed the Bohol meeting will push through.
At least four militants, including key Abu Sayyaf Commander Moammar Askali, three soldiers, a policeman, and two villagers were killed in a daylong gun battle in Bohol's Inabanga town last Tuesday.
Derailing the ASEAN meetings in the province could be one of the objectives of the Abu Sayyaf Group, a security expert said.
Bohol is not considered a turf of the Abu Sayyaf, Lopez noted, saying he doesn't think ASEAN delegates are concerned about the situation. "Wala pang nakakarating sa 'kin na concerns," the Cabinet official said.
"Wala daw concerns raised on security issue as per staff," he said in a separate text message.
Separately, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia said the authorities were able to handle the situation well enough.
"No concern as the issue has been adequately addressed," he said.
Lopez noted security measures have been heightened to ensure the safety of delegates from the 10 ASEAN member countries – Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as the group's partner states.
"It's a must," he said.
The Department of Interior and Local Government also said the schedule of activities in Bohol is going to push through.
Last year, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said the Philippines was likely to put prospects of joining the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the back burner, and take a closer look at the possibilities surrounding the China-backed RCEP.
The Philippines is also holding the 30th ASEAN Summit later this month, the 50th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in August, and the 31st ASEAN Summit in November.
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