The two-day Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit is expected to focus on Rodrigo Duterte's unpredictable foreign policy and attendees are predicted to support to his drug war.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is hosting this year's two-day Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit starting on Friday, where according to observers the president is set to enjoy much-wanted foreign support for his deadly drug war.
Duterte's unpredictable foreign policy is also expected to be in focus at the ASEAN event, with confusion surrounding his approach to Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea.
The crackdown on drugs, which has claimed thousands of lives and led to warnings by rights groups about a possible crime against humanity, has been a defining theme of Duterte's first 10 months in power.
Duterte against critics
He has relentlessly railed against the mostly Western critics of his drug war. The president has demanded they respect him even as he used abusive terms to describe them.
Duterte hogged the headlines at another ASEAN leaders' summit in Laos last year when he called then US president Barack Obama, who was also attending, a "son of a whore" for criticising his drug war. He later apologised for the comments.
Supporting the drug war?
The mood will likely be far calmer in Manila with Duterte expected to enjoy drug-war backing from most of his guests, according to observers.
"I sadly expect Duterte will promote his drug war because he knows there will be no contrary words from the other ASEAN leaders," Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, told AFP.
"The region is falling deeper into dictatorship, repression and rights abuse."
Among the heads of regimes who will convene in Manila are Thai military junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha and Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, as well as the leaders of Laos and Vietnam.
Cambodia's Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge cadre, and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has faced allegations of corruption and vote-rigging, will also attend.
Lauro Baja, a former Philippine foreign undersecretary and ambassador to the United Nations, agreed ASEAN leaders would back Duterte's drug war while in Manila, or at least keep any concerns to themselves.
"I expect them to support the efforts of the Philippines to curb the drug menace, period. Without talking about how we achieve that," Baja told AFP.
Baja said that even if leaders did disapprove of Duterte's tactics, they would observe a long-standing ASEAN policy of non-interference in each others' affairs.
The summit will take place under heavy security following a series of deadly clashes recently with Islamic militants in the central and southern Philippines. About 40,000 security forces have been assigned to guard the event, authorities said.