By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte has called for “fair and easy access” to vaccines and treatments for all countries in the event the cure for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is finally found.
He likewise called for international cooperation in the fight against the dreaded disease, saying “there can be no victory if we do not defeat the virus everywhere”.
At the virtual regional summit on COVID-19 Tuesday, the President proposed the start of the discussion on “modalities” on the access to vaccines, apart from setting up a regional reserve for medical supplies as well as rice supply amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are confident our scientists and experts within and outside our region will rise to this colossal challenge. A vaccine and/or treatment must be found sooner rather than later,” he said in his message during the special Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit with dialogue partners China, Japan and South Korea on the COVID-19.
“Our duty then and that of relevant multilateral institutions is to make sure that all countries will have fair and easy access to vaccines and treatments. Discussions on modalities should be started,” he said.
Duterte also urged the regional neighbors to enhance scientific cooperation, particularly in the area of vaccine and anti-viral treatment research and development. The Philippines is ready to participate in clinical trials and medical studies of potential vaccines and medicines such as Avigan, he said.
To overcome the “formidable enemy,” the President also pressed for international cooperation in strengthening of the capacity of health care systems, ensuring food security, and preparing for “post-pandemic recovery plan” during the online meeting with other regional leaders.
“‘Going it alone’ is an exercise in futility and absurdity. There can be no victory if we do not defeat the virus everywhere. We have to choose the intelligent and productive path of cooperation. It is the only way,” he said.
He thanked ASEAN’s dialogue partners for their timely and generous assistance in the time of great need. “We must continue working together to end this pandemic with finality,” he said.
In his remarks, the President expressed support for the creation of regional reserves of medical supplies “to better equip us in this fight.” Our most urgent priority is strengthening the capacity of our healthcare systems. We call for the increased production and the facilitation of trade of vital medical equipment and supplies in our region,” he said.
He also said that regional leader must also ensure food security to avoid social unrest.
“It is imperative our people do not go hungry. Failure to do so will lead to social unrest with all its attendant complications,” he said.
Duterte also warned against unnecessary trade restrictions on staple foods, such as rice, and other basic commodities that will only be harmful to people. “We have to keep ASEAN markets open and ensure supply chain connectivity. We must also utilize existing mechanisms, such as the ASEAN Plus Three Emergency Rice Reserve,” he added.
With the coronavirus bringing the world to a standstill, Duterte acknowledged the prospect of a global recession. He has proposed the crafting of post-pandemic recovery plan, that involves jumpstarting economic growth and helping marginalized sectors.
“In the Philippines, we are bracing for a significant decline in economic output. We are instituting social safety nets to soften the blow, including subsidies to 18 million families from the marginalized sectors of our society. Simply stated, we are feeding 18 million families as of today,” he said.
“But this will not be enough. We need to rebuild our economies and stimulate growth domestically, regionally, and globally,” he added.
He said it was obvious that the world will not and cannot be the same after the pandemic.
He said a “new normal” must be established using lessons learned from this and other crises.
“The world after COVID-19 need not be a lesser version of the one before it. The elements of international cooperation that will allow us to overcome this challenge will form the basis of how we will engage one another as we create a more resilient world,” he said.
“The Philippines can only heal together as one country. ASEAN can only recover as one region. The world can only bounce back stronger as one global community,” he added