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The Philippine government has postponed the leadersâ€™ summit next week of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and a wider East Asia grouping, blaming a brewing storm.
But the Department of Foreign Affairs sources and key police intelligence officers told The Manila Times a terrorist threat and scheduled massive protests were also factors in the decision.
â€œThe decision was based on this weather disturbance and on this disturbance only,â€ national organizing chief Marciano Paynor told a press conference in Cebu City, where senior officials of Asean states already started meeting.
â€œWe canâ€™t say how strong or weak the typhoon will be,â€ said Paynor. The primary responsibility of the host is the safety of his guests.â€
He said ministerial meetings were expected to go ahead but that summits of national leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the wider East Asia Summit would be put off until January.
As of press time, Malaysian Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz, Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo and Thai Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram had arrived in Cebu.
The annual summit of the 10-nation Asean bloc, and the fledgling expanded regional grouping known as the East Asia Summit, are major events on the Asian diplomatic calendar that draw leaders from across the region.
The Asean group had been set to take on an ambitious agenda, including the signing of its first agreement to cooperate in the fight against terrorism.
The announcement caused confusion because minutes before the press briefing, the weather agency, Pagasa, said Tropical Storm Seniang was shaping up as a relative lightweight as storms go.
After the announcement, Pagasa forecaster Joel Desusa explained: â€œNinety-five kilometers may not sound very strong but it is enough to cause serious damage here in the Philippines. It can uproot trees and destroy huts.â€
Desusa said the storm was expected to keep to its current path over Samar and northern Cebu toward the northern tip of the western island of Palawan.
â€œAfter then we expect it will intensify into a typhoon with winds in excess of 145 kilometers an hour as it heads into the South China Sea,â€ he added.
The storm comes days after Supertyphoon Reming slammed into the countryâ€™s Bicol region, leaving more than 1,300 dead or missing.
â€œIt could have a big impact on the area,â€ said Florentino Sison, operations chief of the civil defense agency.
Paynor stressed that typhoons at this time of year were unpredictable. He noted that while Cebu could remain safe, possible massive destruction in nearby Visayan islands could mar the summit.
â€œIt would be better to postpone it rather than hold it in an atmosphere where probably there might be death and destruction all around us,â€ Palace spokesman Ignacio Bunye told reporters in MalacaÃ±ang.
Bunye said the Department of Foreign Affairs, the National Organizing Committee of the Asean Summit and MalacaÃ±ang agreed to postpone the event to a mutually agreed date sometime early January.
Filipino diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times that governments of Asean member-states had weighed in with concern, following consultations with intelligence agencies of the United States, Britain, Australia and Japan, which had all warned of a terrorist plot to attack the summit, scheduled from December 11 to 14. (See related story)
The government also faced massive political rallies in protest of Charter change next week, with major religious groups like the Catholic Bishopsâ€™ Conference of the Philippines, the El Shaddai and major protestant denominations announcing joint actions with militant groups and the traditional political opposition.
El Shaddai leader Mike Velarde and the CBCP said it expected hundreds of thousands of people to attend a prayer rally on December 15 while activist groups from the Left and the Right were preparing a siege of the House of Representatives at the Batasan Pambansa Complex starting Monday night.
A senior police intelligence source also noted reports of restiveness among junior military officers, who have been periodically involved in coup attempts.
â€œThe government was anticipating political upheaval and civil disturbance in Metro Manila and elsewhere in the country as a result of congressional moves to forcibly amend the Constitution,â€ said the police officer, also requesting anonymity.
â€œAs of now the concentration of security forces is in Cebu due to the summit, leading Metro Manila thinly protected, thus very vulnerable to destabilization moves. Also it will be an international political embarrassment for the country to be rocked by massive protests as the summit unfolds,â€ the officer said.
â€œThe government could not manage the Asean summit and Charter change efforts simultaneously,â€ he added.
With the postponement of the summit, the source said, â€œthere will me immediate redeployment of security forcers from Cebu to Metro Manila and environs over the weekend to ready protection for next week.â€
Singapore accepted the Philippine governmentâ€™s decision to postpone two major regional summits on the island of Cebu, which Filipino officials said was being threatened by a storm.
Amid speculation that security reasons may have triggered the decision, Singapore said: â€œWe fully understand and support the Philippine government in taking this difficult decision to postpone the summit.
â€œWe thank them for their concern for the safety of the leaders and delegates attending the Asean summit. Our hearts are with the Philippine people as they prepare to face another major storm,â€ a spokesman for the Singapore foreign ministry said in a statement.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left Friday for the Philippines on a shortened trip.
Abe, who was originally due to attend twin meetings of Southeast Asian and East Asian leaders, will instead hold talks Saturday with President Arroyo and return to Japan on Sunday.
â€œItâ€™s disappointing,â€ Abe said of the postponement.
â€œIt would have been a precious opportunity to hold talks with China and South Korea and seek further cooperation among the three nations,â€ he told reporters before departure.
South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun will return home this week after canceling his planned trip to the Philippines.
Roh, now in New Zealand after visiting Indonesia and Australia, would return home Sunday due to the postponement of twin meetings of Southeast Asian and East Asian leaders in Cebu, Yonhap News Agency said.
Yonhap quoted a presidential official as saying Rohâ€™s planned meetings with Chinese and Japanese leaders on the sidelines of the summits would be rescheduled