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  • Writer's pictureMelo Acuna

Need to recalibrate plans for ASEAN as COVID-19 pandemic lingers on

President Duterte calls on ASEAN leaders to focus on healthcare and social protection

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte said greater cooperation and connectivity to thrive under the new normal that COVID-19 brought to everyone.

During his intervention and the 36th ASEAN Summit chaired by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, President Duterte said for southeast Asia to “bridge the gap” between the crisis and the future everyone desires, he said it is imperative to address the vulnerabilities that COVID-19 uncovered including the limitations of healthcare and social protection systems. The pandemic endangered workers in their respective home countries and abroad as it exposed the precarious situation of micro, small and medium enterprises and the fragile supply chain networks.

He likened COVID-19 pandemic to a perfect storm, he said while there exists cooperation among ASEAN nations in these areas, there is a need to recalibrate plans “so we can build back better.”

He welcomed the establishment of the ASEAN Technical Vocational Education and Training (ASEAN-TVET) Council and called for stronger implementation of the Consensus on the Protection and promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. He added COVID-19 has led to the adoption of e-commerce, e-learning, videoconferencing and artificial intelligence.

President Duterte said COVID-19 has not put a stop to terrorism as “it remains alive, lurking in the shadows.” He added terrorist elements in some countries “strike even during government relief operations.”

However, President Duterte mentioned shifts in geopolitics which he said accelerated during the last six months with the rivalry between the United States and China which he was “was already well under way before this crisis.” He said superpowers will continue to “draw us into their respective camps” as he called on his fellow ASEAN leaders to insist on an open and rules-based international order that gives every country, “not just one voice, but an equal standing.”

He referred to some “alarming incidents” in the South China Sea as he called on parties to refrain from accelerating tensions and adhere to the provisions of international law, 1982 UNCLOS.

“We urge all parties to adhere to the rule of law and to their commitments to international instruments, including the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” he said.

President Duterte who sits as Country Coordinator for ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations, said the ASEAN faces real constraints in dealing with deliverables.

“We must not lose sight of strategic interests in the (South) China Sea. We must find innovative ways and exercise flexibility to achieve our common goals. We remain committed to work closely with Member States and China towards the early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,” he further explained.

In closing, he acknowledged Viet Nam for “its committed leadership of ASEAN under difficult times.” He vowed to continue working with ASEAN to realize the shared aspiration for a peaceful, prosperous and secure future for everyone. (Melo M. Acuña)

Screenshot from RTVM-PCOO on the Opening Ceremonies of the 36th ASEAN Summit.

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