Saying the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic the present generation’s major challenge, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has called on the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to strengthen regional cooperation aimed at protecting public health while boosting sluggish economies.
Speaking at the Plenary Session of the 37th ASEAN Summit Thursday, President Duterte said ASEAN member states are now confronted with the complexity of the recovery process with every country aiming for a comprehensive resurgence.
“The path we must take is clear – it is that of deeper engagement on vital issues that bind us together as one ASEAN Community,” the President said in his address.
“Our immediate priority is health security. We have to strengthen our health systems by ensuring the unimpeded supply of medical supplies and technologies, and by enhancing early warning systems for health emergencies.”
At the same time, he called for the speedy implementation of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework, the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund, the ASEAN Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies, and the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases.
The ASEAN, he said, must work together to ensure that all nations – rich or poor – will have access to safe vaccines.
On the economic front, ASEAN members must deepen regional integration and strengthen supply chain connectivity, the President said, as he welcomed the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement.
To ensure transformative regional growth, President Duterte said the ASEAN must forge ahead with sub-regional arrangements, such as the Brunei Darussalam- Indonesia- Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) to bridge the development gaps.
ASEAN’s actions must also be people-centered to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, he noted.
“The massive displacement of workers, including migrant workers, compels us to upskill and reskill our labor force. We must equip our people for a rapidly evolving labor market under the new normal,” he said.
“In this light, we welcome support for the Philippines’ inaugural Chairmanship of the ASEAN Technical and Vocational Education and Training Council. Rest assured that we will build partnerships to further implement the Roadmap of the ASEAN Declaration on Human Resources Development for the Changing World of Work.”
No sector must be left behind as ASEAN recovers, the President stressed, as he rallies support in addressing the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on women, migrant workers, and other vulnerable sectors.
The Philippine leader wants the ASEAN to adopt gender-responsive measures and strengthen social protection systems.
Cooperation in promoting and protecting the rights of migrant workers, regardless of their status, must also be intensified, he added. PND