Duterte to ASEAN: Ensure vaccine access for all
Addressing the opening of the 37th ASEAN Summit in a virtual plenary session, Duterte said: “We must work together to ensure that all nations rich or poor will have access to safe vaccines. No one is safe until all of us are safe.”
Philstar.com/Irish Lising

Duterte to ASEAN: Ensure vaccine access for all

Christina Mendez, Edith Regalado (The Philippine Star) - November 13, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Rich or poor, all nations must be ensured access to safe vaccines against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), President Duterte said yesterday as he called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to work toward this goal.

Addressing the opening of the 37th ASEAN Summit in a virtual plenary session, Duterte said: “We must work together to ensure that all nations – rich or poor – will have access to safe vaccines. No one is safe until all of us are safe.”

The President said the COVID-19 pandemic is the defining challenge of the present generation and that the path ASEAN leaders must take is clear – “it is that of deeper engagement on vital issues that bind us together as one ASEAN Community.”

“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,” Duterte said.

He urged his counterparts in the 10-member bloc to fast-track the implementation of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework; the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund; the ASEAN Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies; and the ASEAN Center for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases.

“Over the year, we strove to achieve a delicate balance of saving lives while keeping our economies afloat. We are now confronted with the complexity and enormity of the recovery process. We aim for a comprehensive recovery to build back better, healthier, and more prosperous societies,” he said.

Message to China

In the ASEAN-China Summit, Duterte also called on Beijing to be kinder to its neighboring countries by prioritizing the 10-member Southeast Asian bloc in equal access to and distribution of the vaccines it is developing against COVID-19.

His remarks carried the ASEAN Common Statement since the Philippines is the country coordinator for the ASEAN China Dialogue Relations.

Duterte said ASEAN encourages close cooperation, collaboration with China in the development and equitable distribution of safe, effective, affordable vaccines, diagnostics and medicines.

He said the ASEAN also welcomes China’s pledge to make the COVID-19 vaccine a global public good which China has promised ASEAN to be among the first to benefit.

Duterte also expressed ASEAN’s appreciation to China for its pledge to contribute to the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund and initiatives for Public Health Emergencies as well as support for ASEAN’s Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies and provisions for assistance to ASEAN member-states.

Finally, Duterte said the ASEAN looks forward to China’s support for a Comprehensive Recovery Framework and its implementation plan to allow ASEAN’s robust recovery, resiliency and sustainability.

The ASEAN-China Summit was one of the meetings at the sidelines of the 37th ASEAN Summit hosted by Vietnam via video conferencing.

Maritime security

Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said Duterte also expressed how the Philippines did its utmost to shepherd substantive progress in the negotiation for the Code of Conduct (COC) in the West Philippine Sea.

Roque said the Philippines vows to finish the second reading before turning over the role as country coordinator for ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations to Myanmar next year.

At the summit, Duterte thanked his ASEAN counterparts for their full support and cooperation in the accomplishments the Philippines has made as country coordinator, referring to it as “friendship and cooperation at work.”

Duterte also said that ASEAN welcomes the designation of 2021 as the ASEAN-China Year of Sustainable Development Cooperation, where ASEAN encourages cooperation with China in areas such as poverty eradication, food security, environment protection and climate change.

ASEAN economics

On the economic front, Duterte said ASEAN should deepen regional integration and strengthen supply chain connectivity as bloc leaders welcome the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or the RCEP agreement.

“Growth, to be truly transformative, must be enjoyed by all,” he said.

He then encouraged the ASEAN leaders to forge ahead with sub-regional arrangements, such as the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines-East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), to bridge the development gaps within the region.

Duterte said that in mitigating the impact of the pandemic, the actions of ASEAN countries must be people-centered and as such address the massive displacement of workers and include the upskilling and reskilling of their 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,” Duterte said.

He said that as nations recover from the impact of the pandemic, no sector must be left behind and should be inclusive of women, migrant workers, and other vulnerable sectors.

Phl moving to secure vaccines

The other day, vaccine czar and National Action Plan (NAP) against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. said the Philippines has allocated a P10-billion fund for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.

“We know in Bayanihan 2, we have allocation for testing and procurement of vaccines. We have 10 billion,” Galvez said in a virtual press briefing from Taguig City.

“We also have (a) standby fund. ADB (Asian Development Bank) and World Bank assured us that they will also help us for pooled or self-sufficiency financing,” he said of funding sources once the vaccine becomes available.

He revealed that negotiations are underway with host countries of potential suppliers of the vaccines. “We have good diplomatic relations with China, Russia, US, Japan, South Korea, UK, Singapore and Israel,” he said.

Following the President’s approval of the Philippine National Vaccine Roadmap (PNVR), its first stage, which is the scientific evaluation and selection of vaccines, is already being implemented.

The PNVR is anchored on the goal of providing a safe, effective and affordable vaccine for all Filipinos.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire explained the rigorous selection process of COVID-19 vaccines to ensure both their safety and efficacy.

Vergeire said the Food and Drug Administration is in-charge of evaluating the products, but before that, an additional layer of screening has been put in place.

“The Department of Science and Technology (DOST), through the Inter-Agency Task Force of the Philippines, created Vaccine Experts Panel (and) they have this layer of evaluating all of these documents that will be requested from each manufacturer,” she said.

Vergeire said the Philippines is already participating in the World Health Organization solidarity vaccine trial, as part of the government’s preparations under the PNVR.

Galvez said around 25 million Filipinos will be prioritized during the first round of vaccinations, which is anticipated to be conducted by the second or third quarter of 2021.

He said this will include the poorest of the poor, frontliners, as well as the security sector.

With regard to access to the vaccine, Galvez said mechanisms have been put in place to ensure that Filipinos will not be left behind in the global race to acquire the vaccine. – Jose Rodel Clapano

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