MANILA, June 26 (Xinhua) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday that only “a cohesive and responsive” ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) can help Southeast Asia safely navigate out of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Greater cooperation and connectivity are vital for our region to thrive under the new normal that COVID-19 imposes on all of us,” Duterte told his counterparts via teleconference during the 36th ASEAN leaders’ summit chaired by Vietnam.
Duterte said the Philippines welcomes the ASEAN plan of action on strengthening economic cooperation and supply chain connectivity, as well as the establishment of the ASEAN COVID-19 response fund.
Duterte also stressed the need to “recalibrate” the regional grouping’s plans “so we can build back better.”
“Certainly, these measures are only the first steps towards recovery and the continuation of our community building,” Duterte added.
To bridge the gap between COVID-19 crisis and the future that ASEAN wants to chart, Duterte stressed the need to address the vulnerabilities that COVID-19 has revealed in ASEAN’s systems.
“This pandemic has exposed the limitations of our healthcare and social protection systems. It has laid bare the precarious situation of our workers at home and abroad, the viability of our micro, small and medium enterprises or MSMEs, and the weaknesses of our supply chain networks,” he said.
Moreover, Duterte stressed the need to speed up the implementation of ASEAN connectivity projects “to build resilient and sustainable regional supply chains.”
“We have to maximize trade facilitation initiatives to promote the growth and participation of MSMEs in regional and global value chains,” he said.
Duterte warned that the a pandemic similar to COVID-19 may break out in the future. “We must strengthen our region’s capacity to address future infectious disease outbreaks,” he said.
Duterte said ASEAN needs to promote research and capacity-building on health technology development.
The Philippines currently has 34,073 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 1,224 deaths and 9,182 recoveries. Several other ASEAN countries are also grappling with high number of coronavirus cases including Indonesia and Singapore.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.