Rody presses fast ASEAN action on virus recovery plan

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    PRESIDENT Duterte yesterday rallied Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) leaders to fast-track the formation of a comprehensive coronavirus disease (COVID-19) health and economic recovery plan to “build back better, healthier, and more prosperous societies” as he reiterated his call for equal access to safe vaccines for all nations regardless of their financial capacity.

    In his speech during the virtual 37th ASAN Summit held in Vietnam, the President likewise stressed anew the importance of addressing the adverse effects of climate change and enhancing regional cooperation on disaster risk reduction management.

    Duterte also talked of the South China Sea issue where he highlighted that the 2016 arbitral award from the Permanent Court of Arbitration is now part of international law and that “its significance cannot be diminished nor ignored by any country, however big and powerful.”

    In the afternoon, the President presided over the ASEAN-China Summit where he reiterated his morning message.

    In his morning speech, Duterte said the COVID-19 pandemic has been a defining challenge to all nations as they delicately balanced saving lives and keeping their economies afloat.

    As he pointed out how the COVID-19 pandemic caught the world flat-footed, Duterte said countries must work hard towards ensuring health security through a stronger health system with unimpeded supply of medical supplies and technologies, and ensure equal access to vaccines.

    He said ASEAN must also 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 Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases.

    Duterte also said that countries must continue to deepen regional integration, strengthen supply chain connectivity and uplift the plight of the people especially the women, migrant workers, and other vulnerable sectors.

    “In mitigating the impact of the pandemic, our actions must be people-centered… As we recover, no sector must be left behind. Our efforts should be targeted and inclusive. We must address the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on women, migrant workers, and other vulnerable sectors. We have to adopt gender-responsive measures and strengthen social protection systems. We must also intensify cooperation in promoting and protecting the rights of migrant workers, regardless of their status,” he said.

    Apart from the pandemic, the President highlighted the need to “demand climate justice” from nations that are the “most responsible for (the) existential challenge” of climate change that the world faces today.

    “Developed countries must lead in deep and drastic cuts in carbon emissions,” he said, citing how super typhoon Goni (Rolly) and typhoon Ulysses brought widespread damage to the Philippines.

    Duterte also reiterated the importance of coming up with the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea which had been pending for years.

    “We must, therefore, remain united. We must show that we are masters of our region’s destiny and that we can work together to achieve shared aspirations and solve common problems. As I have said before, the South China Sea issue is ASEAN’s strategic challenge.

    How we deal with this matter lays bare our strengths and weaknesses as a Community. We must act with haste,” he said.

    He said the Philippine position had always been clear and firm that the disputes must be solved peacefully and in accordance with international law.

    “The 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea is an authoritative interpretation of the application of UNCLOS. It is now part of international law. And its significance cannot be diminished nor ignored by any country, however big and powerful. The Philippines is one with ASEAN in transforming the South China Sea into a sea of peace and prosperity for all.

    We are committed to the immediate conclusion of a substantive and effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,” he added.

    The President, during the ASEAN-China Summit, reaffirmed ASEAN’s commitment to the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in South China Sea and the adoption of an “effective substantive” Code of Conduct in the South China Sea that is consistent with United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

    Duterte also acknowledged China’s pledge to contribute to the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund and its promise to make the COVID-19 vaccine that it is developing available to ASEAN members first.

    He emphasized the importance of a closer collaboration between ASEAN and China for the “development and equitable distribution of safe, effective, affordable vaccines, diagnostics and medicines.”

    The President also thanked China for its support to the ASEAN Public Health Emergencies and ASEAN Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies initiatives and the drawing up of a Comprehensive Recovery Framework.