Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., along with his fellow foreign ministers in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, convened Thursday an Asean-US Special Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) by video conference.
At the meeting, Pompeo reaffirmed the US’ commitment to the region by using all available tools to minimize the economic and social damage from the pandemic and to restore global growth.
He announced the release of more than USD35.3 million (approximately PHP1.78 billion) in emergency health funding to help Asean, on top of the USD3.5 billion (approximately PHP177.25 billion) in public health assistance given to Asean over the last 20 years.
He also introduced the new US-Asean Health Futures initiative to enhance joint efforts in health security. A major focus of the initiative will be the training of the next generation of Asean medical professionals.
With many of their countries enforcing community quarantine policies, the foreign ministers discussed the expansion of Asean-US cooperation to manage the socio-economic impact of the pandemic and to plan for future recovery.
They also reaffirmed their collective resolve to prioritize strengthening their public health systems to provide ample care for their peoples, ensuring the stable supply and reliable flow of essential goods and services, and cooperating in research and development of vaccine and therapeutics.
Locsin spoke on the importance to the Philippines of strengthening its healthcare system through increased production and supply of medicines, medical equipment, and other medical supplies; ensuring food security by keeping Asean markets open; and safeguarding supply chain connectivity for staples such as rice; and the speedy research and development of vaccines and cures without which the world cannot prevail over the virus.
Locsin underscored Filipino health care workers as the core of health care systems, including Filipino-American front-liners risking their lives in the US.
He conveyed his hope for the US to continue protecting them and remember their contributions as the US crafts its immigration policy in light of Covid-19.
The foreign ministers also noted concerns expressed over recent developments in the South China Sea that increased tensions at a time when all efforts and resources are focused on battling the pandemic. They recognized the importance of contributing to the maintenance of peace, security, stability, and the rule of law in the region amid the fight against Covid-19.
“This is essential at a time when countries must not only navigate the Covid crisis but must also prepare a post-pandemic plan of social and economic recovery,” Locsin said.
“In Asia, that recovery hinges on China’s recovery from the ravages of the pandemic; but it can never be at the price of our honor and sovereignty,” he added.
The video conference forms part of a series of meetings aimed at strengthening Asean-US international cooperation in addressing Covid-19.