ASEAN urged to collaborate amid COVID-19 crisis

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte gives his intervention as he joins other leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries during the special ASEAN Summit on Covid-19 video conference at the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang on April 14, 2020. I Presidential Photos

PHILIPPINES President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday, April 14, called for the cooperation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic that has killed thousands of people and forced the lockdowns of major cities globally.

“To effectively overcome the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, ASEAN must collaborate and coordinate within our region and beyond,” he said in his speech during the special virtual summit on the COVID-19 outbreak.

This year’s ASEAN summit was chaired by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

According to Duterte, the COVID-19 is an “unprecedented, devastating, and unfolding catastrophe” that is “upending the totality of our way of life.”

“This virus threatens to exact the highest tolls – on our peoples and our economies. We are forced to impose drastic measures to address this pandemic,” he said.

“These immediate responses, while necessary, could drive our societies and the larger international community further apart. And yet, an effective, strategic response requires that we come together and cooperate even more,” he added.

Duterte noted that health care systems are under stress as the number of COVID-19 cases rise, which is causing a shortage of vital medicine and medical equipment and supplies.

“We need to boost production and facilitate intra-ASEAN trade of these life-saving necessities,” he said.

He also urged the ASEAN to take the necessary steps to ensure food security as governments impose lockdowns to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

“Our most urgent priority is ensuring sufficient supply of rice for our 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 said.

“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,” Duterte added.

The president also called for the support of research and development initiatives in developing a vaccine, noting that lockdowns have staggering socio-economic implications for various nations.

“Without a vaccine or a cure, we can only delay the spread of the disease. But containment, in whatever form and degree, will have staggering socio-economic implications for all of us. It is therefore imperative that we support vaccine and research and development initiatives,” he said.

“We should fast-track cooperation with our dialogue partners in this area. For its part, the Philippines is ready to join solidarity with clinical trials for COVID-19 treatment,” Duterte added.

Furthermore, he urged the ASEAN to “be ready for future outbreaks,” warning that COVID-19 would not be the last pandemic.

“COVID-19 will not be the last pandemic the world will face. We have to be ready for future outbreaks. We therefore have to improve and expand existing ASEAN’s mechanisms to cover public health emergencies,” he said.

Duterte then welcomed Thailand’s proposal to establish a COVID-19 ASEAN response fund and expressed gratitude toward Brunei and Singapore for providing assistance to the Philippines.

“We can only be truly safe if we defeat this virus everywhere. Let us therefore strengthen our networks of solidarity and cooperation. Let us surmount this crisis together,” he said.

Ritchel Mendiola

Ritchel Mendiola is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at ritchel.mendiola@asianjournalinc.com.

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