Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the youngest country leader who attended the ASEAN Summit, met septuagenarian President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, November 14.
The 37-year-old Ardern, New Zealand’s youngest chief executive since it became self-governing in 1856, had a bilateral meeting with the elderly Duterte on the last day of the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits.
During their talk, she reminded him of the "principles and values" about peace which she had raised in an earlier summit that day.
When the President spoke admiringly about how New Zealand is "governed well and protected well" and said with incredulity that he noticed the country's police don't even carry guns around, Ardern said this was because New Zealand is a "peaceful" country.
She used it as an opportunity to remind Duterte of the issue she raised during the East Asia Summit earlier that day.
"No, we consider ourselves a very peaceful nation and of course advocate for those principles and values as you will have heard at the point that I made during the summit," said Ardern,
She added, "So that was an opportunity to highlight some of our values. And you will have seen yourself that we live by them."
Duterte's only response was, "Yeah."
It was at this point when Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano stood up and walked by Duterte's side to signal to the two leaders that it was time for the signing of agreements.
Ardern no longer had the opportunity during that meeting to expound on the "values" she promoted during the summit.
But that morning, Ardern told New Zealand media that said she would bring up, during the East Asia Summit, New Zealand’s concerns over the deaths being linked to Duterte’s war on drugs.
“Our view is that the number of deaths certainly requires investigation and oversight at the very least,” Ardern had told New Zealand reporters.
Ardern's youth was in stark contrast to Duterte who, at 72, is one of the oldest of the 10 Southeast Asian leaders.
Despite their differences in age, Ardern and Duterte seemed to hit it off at their meeting.
The Philippine President sounded more candid and freewheeling in his remarks to Ardern than in his previous bilateral meetings.
The fact that both leaders spoke in English, requiring no mediation by translators, may have contributed to the more casual and easy-flowing conversation.
At the start of their talk, Ardern even made a joke about Duterte's skills as ASEAN chairman.
"I’ve also observed your skills as a Chair. I could only hope to be able to keep meetings that are so concise," she said, before laughing with some other people in the room.
Duterte then responded by citing his experience as Davao City vice mayor, a role that entails presiding over city council meetings.
"In about so many years, we’ve experienced just shepherding the proceedings in the legislative body on the local government unit," he said.
He spoke of his trips to New Zealand, one of which was a stop-over on his way to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Peru last year.
Duterte also thanked Ardern for how New Zealand is "superbly" treating the over 50,000 Filipinos residing in her country.
He joked that he could only criticize New Zealand's very strict customs regulations based on the experience of his "companion."
"She was warned, everybody was warned not to bring anything...Almost like, do not bring anything that is alive, including you," Duterte said.
At the end of their Tuesday bilateral meeting, Ardern and Duterte witnessed the signing of the Memorandum of Cooperation on Comparative Analysis of New Zealand and the Philippines Bachelor's Degree.
The agreement was signed by Commission on Higher Education Chairperson Dr Patricia Licuanan and New Zealand Ambassador David Strachan. – 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.