Notes on ASEAN Summit 2017, Part I: My Personal Story
To tell you frankly, I was quite stoked when I learned that I'd be given media pass to cover the ASEAN Summit, or at least, most parts of it. As far as I know, this would be the first ASEAN summit that bloggers would be allowed to cover as part of media group, together with traditional media, both print and online. Bloggers may not yet be accredited to cover most government-related events, but at least, for this event, a number of bloggers were and I was very fortunate to work with some of the veteran bloggers that I know.
For this first part of my Notes on the ASEAN Summit, I will largely be talking about my experience covering the event.
Photo credit: CitizenJanePH
In the photo above, I sat with Mark Macanas of TechPinas and Jane Uymatiao of Blogwatch.PH at the press briefing room (Taft ballroom of the Conrad Manila Hotel, which has been the home of the International Media Center throughout the summit). We were also with Marvin Germo, stock trader-expert and financial consultant, and Ace Gapuz of Blogapalooza (though they're not in the photo above). We were an odd mix of bloggers coming from all walks of life. However, I think it is what made it work: we can draw knowledge and experience from varying fields of experience. Thus, information we have gathered throughout the summit can be examined through different lenses.
The media lounge is the space in between Taft and Forbes ballrooms where media people can sit and rest in between briefings and events. Snacks and meals were served twice in a day and cold sodas, fresh water and coffee were available all throughout the day. I'm quite thankful for the abundance of charging stations for electronic devices. As a blogger, I use a lot of devices (cameras, smartphone, laptop) to stay online and also to keep record of whatever is happening during the summit. And for the members of traditional media, on top of that, they have deadlines to meet and throughout the day, one can hear keyboard clicks, cameras rolling, and reporters making their spiel.
This is the information booth where one can gather schedule for the day, press briefings that will be available to all media, sign-up sheets for attending meetings at the PICC and other venues (wherein only limited number of media persons may be accommodated), and important statements released. RFIDs have to be worn at all times, as there are scanners everywhere which can help tell staff if you are allowed in that area or not. There were some problems with my online registration (the website form was buggy) which resulted into my photo not showing up at the monitors whenever I pass. After a while, though, someone was able to fix it and my photo is happily showing up as I pass by the different scanners.
If you noticed, most of my photos are from the Conrad Manila hotel. This is because most of the media were limited to staying at the briefing room, especially in certain parts of the summit like the meeting proper. There were only a handful of media allowed to cover specific parts of events in the PICC. And in some meetings/events, only the official photographer/documentation team are allowed to go. This may have been put into place so that security of the ASEAN summit delegates, especially the ASEAN leaders would be more manageable.
Media members were usually taken to the event venues via shuttle or bus. In the photo above, I was on a shuttle heading to the National Museum to cover the luncheon held in honor of the spouses of the ASEAN leaders. This part of Roxas Boulevard is completely blocked and only those who have ASEAN-related business may pass through. One can see the big letters of the hashtag #ASEAN2017 in front of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. On the side were many different trucks, which I presume contained equipment for maintenance of security and surveillance.
Every few hundred meters, there were troops of police officers on the side of the road, ready to take action in case security of the area is threatened. There were also smaller groups of police in between. I just hope their problems with portable toilets have been resolved and that they were given decent meals and opportunities to rest.
At the National Museum, camera men were busy setting up their equipment and reporters were quick in assessing and gathering information prior to the arrival of the ASEAN leaders' spouses. I was able to speak with some of the journalists and fortunately run into a highschool classmate, Zen, who's covering for ABS-CBN. Everyone's busy but the allure of the Juan Luna's famous Spoliarium is so great that people just cannot help but take selfies and pictures of it.
And, of course, I can't help it too. Hence, this photo.
By lunch time, we were on our way back to the Conrad Manila Hotel and I met up with some of the bloggers who covered the opening ceremonies of the summit. We would just have to wait until late afternoon, before we can be shuttled back to PICC for the press conference of the President himself, after the closing ceremonies of the summit.
At the PICC meeting room, we waited for the President (who is late, as usual, due to circumstances I am not aware of) to start his press conference. I will write a separate post on my reaction regarding this press conference.
And since this is the President's press conference, the place was abuzz with media people busy discussing among their peers what questions they should be asking the President, whose controversial statements regarding the West Philippine Sea and human rights issues have always been on top of the list of questions of media persons. At that time, it was clearly a question of how these questions should be framed so that he would give direct answers and to strike a delicate balance between proper and controversial.
I was supposed to ask a question, as some of the marshalls have already listed my name. But the President was only able to entertain few questions because he was already late in hosting the gala dinner for the foreign dignitaries. The press conference ended with some folks asking for photo opportunities with him, which he gladly granted. Our little groupfie moment even got captured by the Inquirer.
I know some of my friends will joke about my photo with the President, since I am a vocal critic. I don't mind, though. I still am a critic (I have a lot of disagreements with some of the statements made during the summit) but credit has to be given where it is due.
The ASEAN Summit, despite some controversies and some logistical problems, has been organized generally well. There were some noticeable issues, though:
- I talked with some of the foreign correspondents. They asked if it is the usual practice to have the media center away from the main venue of the summit. They compared it to other events they have covered and they noted that usually the media center is just right beside the main venue. I'm only guessing that it's because of security matters that made the organizers decide that the media center should be farther away from the main venue.
- Foreign correspondents also noted that there were instances when transporting media to the main venue became problematic: ground crew not coordinated with the marshall from the hotel and drivers not updated with the roads that are passable for media. There were times when their shuttle was not allowed to pass so the driver has to find another road.
- Day to day schedule of events throughout the summit were given at the last hour.
- To avoid any further and unneccessary controversy, limit the souvenirs and tokens to commemorative items (disclaimer: as a blogger, I did not receive any gadgets). To be frank, I am quite happy with the bag, the notebook, and the pen. The dried mangoes were delicious too.
Hopefully these would be addressed and corrected by the time the next summit comes.
So, what should the Philippines expect out of the recently concluded ASEAN Summit? There were a lot of talks about increased capital to support entrepreneurship, support for migrant workers and such. There was that statement regarding the Korean Peninsula issue and the West Philippine sea controversy. Why was the President afraid to rally the rest of the ASEAN member states into making a more direct declaration regarding the West Philippine sea? I will try to discuss all of it in my next post/s.
For now, I leave you with this photo of the beautiful sunset at Manila bay.