MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte departed for Japan on Monday night, October 21, to attend the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito.
Duterte's plane departed around 6:30 pm on Monday bound for the capital city of Tokyo.
The President will be among over 100 foreign leaders who will attend the enthronement on Tuesday, October 22, at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. He will also be a guest at the Emperor's Banquet, scheduled on the same day, and the Prime Minister's Banquet on Wednesday, October 23, said Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo.
In September the spokesman said Duterte was mulling not attending the ceremony.
"He said he has so many work to do. He might just send somebody," said Panelo on September 23.
But officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs recommended the President attend the historic occasion, given strong ties between Japan and the Philippines.
Japan is the Philippines' biggest source of official development assistance.
Other leaders are expected to attend, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, and Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, according to Japan Times.
Royals like the United Kingdom's Prince Charles, Belgium's King Philippine and Queen Mathilde, and the Netherland's King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima will also be among the guests.
The NHK reported that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would be holding talks with the VIP guests, including Duterte, for the rest of the week.
Duterte will be accompanied by a smaller group of officials, said Panelo on Monday.
"Definitely, it's a lean delegation, leaner than before," said the spokesman.
In the delegation list sent by Malacañang, 6 officials are officially accompanying Duterte.
They are his daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, Presidential Spokesman Panelo, Senator Bong Go, Quezon City congressman Sonny Belmonte who was recently appointed Special Envoy to Japan for Trade and Market Access, Philippine Ambassador to Japan Jose Laurel V, and Chief of Presidential Protocol Robert Borje.
Panelo also said the President is scheduled to return to the Philippines on Thursday, October 24.
While the President is abroad, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea has been designated officer-in-charge of the executive branch, according to Special Order No 1125, released on Monday.
Duterte had been set to meet with Naruhito's predecessor, his father Emperor Emeritus Akihito, back in October 2016, but this had been cancelled due to the death of the emperor's uncle, Prince Mikasa.
Some Japanese officials may have been relieved because some had reportedly been worried that Duterte may put on his informal style in front of the Emperor, a revered figure in Japan.
Duterte has raised eyebrows at formal events held in foreign countries with their leaders for his manner of dress, habit of walking into an event with hands in his pockets or dozing off, and gum-chewing.
Cutting trip short
But on Tuesday, Malacañang announced Duterte was cutting his trip short due to "unbearable pain" in his back caused by his motorcycle mishaps on October 17.
He flies back to the Philippines on Tuesday evening instead of on Thursday. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.