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Cebu Residents Disappointed of ASEAN Summit Postponement

The postponement of the much-heralded Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit has left the people of Cebu disappointed, and in some cases, a bit poorer. Months of preparation in the major city of the central Philippines evaporated overnight when the government decided to postpone the event because of an approaching typhoon. VOA's Heda Bayron reports from Cebu.

Construction workers had labored 24 hours a day, seven days a week over the past several months to finish the $10 million Cebu International Convention Center in time for the diplomatic extravaganza.

But on Saturday, two days before leaders of the Association of Southeast Nations, or ASEAN, and of other major Asian nations were to sit down for talks, the only people filling the new convention center were departing journalists.

The journalists, and those diplomats who had arrived in advance, were racing for the airport, hoping to get out of the province before Typhoon Utor hits on Sunday.

With them went the hopes of many Cebuanos that hosting an event of this magnitude would boost their province's reputation. Hotels and restaurants had renovated their premises in anticipation of hundreds of delegates.

Marice Araneta, a tour operator, says her advance preparations will probably cost her money.

"I really feel bad about this because we are really ready for it," she said. "We will be having problems with some of our suppliers because we already advanced [money]. I'm talking about the rent-a-car business because I'm handling three countries right now, we have already paid suppliers part of it. I don't know if we can get it back."

Cebu is a major export center for the Philippines, with products ranging from electronics to handicrafts. Local governments and private enterprises were hoping the event would help them expand their markets.

Dece Ann Mondigo traveled many miles from northern Cebu to showcase her area's products at the convention center.

She says her municipality expected so much from the event, meeting potential investors, for instance, but now she feels it was all a waste of time and money.

Cebu would have hosted leaders from the 10 member nations of ASEAN, plus those of China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, New Zealand and East Timor. Putting together an event like this also requires huge advance effort and expenditure by the government.

The government poured millions of dollars into Cebu, putting up new streetlights, paving roads, and rounding up squatters and vagrants. There are always complex matters of scheduling, security and diplomatic protocol to be arranged. Much of that preparation will have to be done from scratch when the summits are finally held.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo says he is consulting with his counterparts now to schedule a new date for the summit. He says all ASEAN officials are looking forward to visiting Cebu in January. But, he says, with a newly heightened sense of realism, he cannot promise another typhoon will not come along then to spoil the party again.