PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte may personally not favor the European Union but, as chair of this year's Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (Asean), he said the European bloc still has a "special place" in Asean's external relations.
Duterte made the remark before the Asean and EU's 40th anniversary commemorative summit held at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City Tuesday, November 14.
Duterte was optimistic that the Asean's meeting with the EU, which he described as "natural partner" of the regional bloc, would lead to progressive relations between the two.
"The EU occupies a special place in the Asean’s external relations, as it is a natural partner of Asean community-building and integration," the President said in his keynote speech.
"Our increasing people-oriented, people-centered agenda drives Asean-EU cooperation on the bulk of long-standing historical and commercial ties," he added.
Duterte has been critical of the EU after its officials raised concerns over the Philippines' war on illegal drugs and the detention of Senator Leila de Lima for her alleged involvement in narcotics trade inside the national penitentiary.
In October, Duterte once again challenged the EU to withdraw its assistance to the Philippines after he supposedly learned that the European bloc had recommended that the Philippines be removed as member-state of the United Nations.
The EU, however, clarified that it did not issue such statement.
EU President Donald Tusk, in a speech, thanked Duterte for "warmly" welcoming him during the Asean-EU meeting.
He made no mention about illegal drugs but pledged that the European bloc would help the Asean in terrorism.
"Terrorist ideologies have spread across continents. We can mitigate the threat if we work together, sharing information on suspects and trends of concern," he said.
As Asean's dialogue partner, Tusk also assured the Southeast Asian leaders that EU remains committed to having a "strategic partnership" to bolster ties in several areas, including trade, investment, and security cooperation.
"The new Asean-EU plan of action contributes to this goal. We remain committed to a strong and cohesive Asean developing in its own character, in the best interest of regional prosperity, stability and security," he said.
"Further enhancing our relations based on common interests and shared values of democracy, human rights, and rule of law is a priority for the EU. Many of our interests coincide and still many of the challenges we face," he added. (SunStar Philippines)