Island loses moment to shine but wins time to fine-tune

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 December, 2006, 12:00am


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In Cebu, they are developing a great faith in the second chance.

Their hopes and hard work dashed by the unprecedented postponement on Friday of the Asean leaders' summit, organisers were picking up the pieces yesterday to ready themselves for the rescheduled summit next month.

The Association of South East Asian Nations meeting was billed as by far the biggest international event to come to the resort island, and considerable local political and financial capital had been invested.

Refunds have to be arranged, and hotels that cleared their rooms in peak season, hoping for an Asean windfall, will instead be empty now. The trickier job of reputation must also be dealt with, given the terrorist threats that hung over the event - which was officially called off because of an approaching tropical storm. Only a low-level alert for Cebu was in place yesterday as Tropical Storm Utor made landfall 200km away, near the island of Samar.

Diplomats and officials said the warnings issued by western intelligence agencies of a plot in its final stages of execution played a key part in the decision to abort the session. The leaders of 16 nations, including China, Japan and India, were to have taken part. Intelligence sources said the main threat was not to the leaders themselves, but to Cebu's main tourist or business areas. 'Even an indirect attack was considered too great a risk, all things considered,' one source said.

The southern Philippines has suffered regular attacks in recent years, most linked to the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group and the Jemaah Islamiah network.

Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia had staked her popularity on promises of big tourism and financial rewards from an event she admitted was stretching the province. 'Stand up and be proud. This is your moment,' she told residents hours before the postponement was announced, and dismissed fears about the weather and terrorism threats.

After the postponement, she spoke sadly of the 'feverish work' of locals in completing a controversial US$12 million convention centre in time. She added: 'It will give us more time to perfect what we are supposed to present. We look at the positive side, we move forward.'

With storm rains leaking through the roof of the new centre, that work is already under way.