Good news amid the crisis
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - September 6, 2020 - 12:00am

For those who have practiced patience so they don’t end up being a patient, we are pleased to bring good news amid this coronavirus pandemic. First and foremost, the US CDC announced here in Washington DC that there is a clear indication a safe, effective vaccine will be ready by October with distribution in the United States by early November.

Ahead of the pack for vaccine development are AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna – now on Phase 3 trials, with results for the earlier trial stages being extremely encouraging. At our initiative, Moderna is now in deep conversation with a private individual whose conglomerate has extensive resources, for the possible distribution of the vaccine in the Philippines on a large-scale basis.

Our economic team in Washington has also been in constant communication with other US pharma and biotech companies so that we could be included in the priority list for access to their vaccine once it becomes available.

A limited number of ambassadors including myself were invited to the US Presidential Guest House, also known as the Blair House, for a meeting this coming Friday with US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. We are anticipating some good news about the vaccine and also hopeful that the US will make it available worldwide no later than the first quarter of 2021.

On the economic front, a lot of American companies continue to be interested in the Philippines. In the recent four-day US-ASEAN Business Council (USABC) virtual meetings organized by USABC president Alex Feldman and senior vice president Ambassador Michael Michalak with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin, Defense Secretary Del Lorenzana, Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, Science and Technology Secretary Boy dela Peña and other Philippine officials, discussions centered on concrete measures to support the Philippines in its battle against COVID-19, accelerate the country’s digital transformation and reinforce bilateral ties between the US and the Philippines for regional peace and prosperity.

Joining the webinars were representatives from 25 companies from various industries that include Lockheed Martin, Bell, Microsoft, Oracle, Cargill, Honeywell, FedEx, KKR, Cisco Systems, Dell Technologies and many others, all of them expressing support and cooperation on multifarious initiatives.

Digitalization is emerging as the silver lining amid this pandemic, with many companies coming up with advanced technology that would make the whole world practically connected from every nook and cranny. The advent of the digital revolution with so many innovations taking place in the past few months is bringing about a new beginning, so to speak.

We are pleased that the Philippines is going aggressively into digital, with the government pushing telecom companies to accelerate connectivity for the entire 7,100-plus islands of the country. With people no longer needing to meet personally on a regular basis since they can touch base through the internet, traffic will ultimately be lessened if not resolved. Cisco, Microsoft and Oracle indicated willingness to partner in leveraging technology and support the Philippines’ efforts towards digitalization, including the establishment of the country’s cyber security infrastructure.

No doubt the shift in US policy on the South China Sea – with the explicit position that China’s “claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful as is its campaign of bullying to control them” – has generated renewed interest on the ASEAN region, with the Philippines now back on the radar as an investment destination.

More countries are also increasing pressure on China to act more responsibly, with stronger calls for a Code of Conduct that would consider not only the interest of claimant nations but also non-claimant stakeholders, all of whom recognize the importance of maritime security to promote free trade and commerce which is important for the global economy. Malaysia, Vietnam, Japan, India, Australia have expressed opposition to, and rejection of, China’s aggressive actions in the East and South China Seas, with analysts warning that such belligerence is driving anti-China sentiment.

This was evident in the recent visit of Czech Senate president Milos Vystrcil to Taiwan, much to the irritation of China that called it an open provocation. According to Vystrcil, a warning issued by the Chinese embassy against congratulating Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-Wen on her recent reelection influenced his decision to travel to Taiwan.

Unconfirmed intelligence reports say China is beginning to show signs of rapprochement as their actions could also impact their economy, especially with the pandemic situation that continues to take its toll on the global economy.

On our security front, the United States has committed to assist the Philippines in the fight against terrorism. Lockheed Martin informed Secretary Lorenzana that the first batch of Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopters will be delivered by November while the rest will be delivered early next year. The Gulfstream G280 multipurpose jet is also set to be delivered in Dallas, Texas to the Philippine Air Force. The G280 will be utilized by the Philippine Air Force for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; medical evacuation; high-altitude atmospheric research and airborne early warning missions. It will also serve as a presidential plane and as an airborne command post during emergency situations.

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, what is important is access to the vaccine which will ultimately help revive our economy. I have no doubt our great Filipino resilient race will bounce back quickly. For our part, we will continue to do our job in fostering good relations with the United States and continue our drive in promoting business in the Philippines. We are lucky to have Secretary Locsin supporting our efforts in enhancing bilateral relations while still adhering to our independent foreign policy.

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