Members of the Association Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must work together to defeat coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that has exacted heavy toll on people’s lives and global order, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte said on Tuesday.
In his intervention during the Special ASEAN Summit on COVID-19, President Duterte said retreating from the regional and global connections would be counterproductive and to effectively overcome the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, “ASEAN must collaborate and coordinate within our region and beyond”.
The President spelled out areas of cooperation for the regional bloc.
First, ASEAN must fortify its healthcare systems, which is under increasing stress as a result of rising number of infections. With the impending shortage of vital medicines, medical equipment and supplies, ASEAN must boost production and facilitate intra-ASEAN trade, the President said.
Second, to ensure food security during the period of lockdowns, the Philippine leader underscored the need to ensure sufficient supply of rice for the people.
“ASEAN must remain open for trade. Crisis or no crisis, as no country can stand alone. Let us, therefore ensure the supply chain connectivity and the smooth flow of goods within our region,” he noted.
“Food security is key in maintaining socio-economic and political stability, especially at a time of great difficulty for our people. We can ignore this only at our own risk.”
Another measure is for ASEAN member states to aggressively pursue vaccine and research and development initiatives, President Duterte said, stressing that without a vaccine or a cure, COVID-19 will continue to spread putting the region in dire socio-economic uncertainty.
Cooperation with Dialogue Partners on the pandemic must also be fast-tracked, according to the President, adding the Philippines is ready to join the conduct of clinical trials for COVID-19 treatment.
Also, the President believes COVID-19 will not be the last pandemic and the world must brace for future outbreaks.
“We therefore have to improve and expand existing ASEAN’s mechanisms to cover public health emergencies,” he said.
“Specifically, we should establish an early warning system for pandemics in the region. This is something vital and concrete that we can do in a collective manner,” the President added.
President Duterte also welcomed during his intervention Thailand’s proposal to establish a COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund.
The current emergency has triggered a crisis of solidarity in the other parts of the world. But for the ASEAN, he said the group stands in unity, mutual assistance, and confidence.
He thanked Viet Nam for its leadership in crafting and coordinating ASEAN’s response to the outbreak and has appreciated the generosity and support of Brunei Darussalam and Singapore for their timely assistance.
“I take this opportunity to convey our deepest gratitude of the Filipino nation,” he said in conveying his gratitude.
The present challenge has transcended borders and exempted no one, he said, noting regardless of how nations handle the crisis within their own territories, every country would be safe if the virus is defeated completely.
“Let us therefore strengthen our networks of solidarity and cooperation. Let us surmount this crisis together,” the President said. PND