Duterte, Japan's Suga talk about COVID-19 aid, West Philippine Sea dispute in call

Duterte, Japan's Suga talk about COVID-19 aid, West Philippine Sea dispute in call
President Rodrigo Duterte is seen in this May 17, 2021 photo during his weekly public address
Presidential photo / Simeon Celi Jr.

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide in a phone call on Wednesday night, where the two discussed about a ¥20-billion aid to Manila's COVID-19 response and issues in the South China Sea. 

Malacañang in a release said Suga relayed his regrets on postponing his supposed visit to the Philippines amid the pandemic, which it said Duterte supported.

The call lasted for about 20 minutes from 6 p.m., and was to mark the 65th year since the normalization of the two nations' diplomatic ties. 

Suga announced a ¥20 billion financial support to the Philippines through their Post Disaster Stand-by Loan, as well as another ¥1 billion cold-chain development assistance. 

"The president thanked Japan for its generous COVID-19 assistance to the Philippines," Palace said, describing the exchange as "warm, engaging and productive."

Manila has one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Southeast Asia. Health authorities continue to report a significant number of daily new infections, and the government's vaccination program has been criticized for its slow inoculation efforts. 

In the said call, Duterte was said to have stressed the need for "peaceful settlement of disputes" in the region, "stating that the Asia-Pacific cannot afford conflicts between neighbors."

The apparent tone that Duterte struck was similar to how he has responded with Chinese incursions in the country's waters. He has since faced mounting criticism over this, as he also called the arbitral ruling in 2016 as a mere piece of paper that he can throw away.

"While recognizing the importance of the arbitral ruling, Prime Minister Suga also expressed concern over developments in the East and South China Seas," Palace added. "Both leaders agreed to work closely to ensure security and stability in the region under the rule of law."

Among other things Duterte and Suga discussed were securing the Sulu and Celebes Seas against piracy, terrorism and other transnational crimes.

Both said they were concerned too over developments in Myanmar, after the military overthrew its civilian government in February that has led to unrest.

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