MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has batted for enhanced multilateralism and economic cooperation as governments are reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has plunged economies into recession and has claimed the lives of more than a million people worldwide.
In a speech delivered during the 15th East Asia Summit last Saturday, Duterte said no country can address the pandemic, geo-political tensions and other grave challenges to security and way of life on its own.
“Major upheavals call for decisive responses. This is true today, more than ever, as we confront complex issues with far-reaching consequences for our peoples… How we respond will shape our collective future,” Duterte said.
“The fate of the powerful can no longer be separated from those of the weak. This is our reality today. We must act with a greater sense of shared responsibility and common destiny. The way forward is enhanced multilateralism,” he added.
While countries in East and Southeast Asia differ in national priorities, they share “enough fundamental interests” to unite them into action, Duterte said. Stakeholders in the region, the president added, should work together to ensure that all countries would have access to safe vaccines at affordable terms.
“We all want sustained and inclusive growth. But this will be beyond reach if we fail to revitalize our economies,” Duterte said.
“COVID-19 will not be the last pandemic. The next big one will come and it will just be a matter of ‘when’. We must have effective early warning systems – as correctly pointed out by (Indonesian) President (Joko) Widodo – and timely response mechanisms.”
Duterte also pushed for the implementation of the Regional Comprehensive Partnership agreement, a free trade deal among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. Launched in 2012, the agreement seeks to cover trade in goods and services, economic and technical cooperation, investments, competition policy, intellectual property rights, and dispute settlement among other areas.
“We must also deepen regional economic integration. It brings the most benefit to the greatest number of people. We look forward to the conclusion and swift implementation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement,” Duterte said.
Duterte also cited the need to take care of the most vulnerable sectors in the society, including migrant workers, saying the pandemic has affected them disproportionately.
“We call for enhanced cooperation in promoting and protecting the rights of migrant workers, regardless of their status,” the President said.
Duterte also reiterated that addressing climate change would allow people in the region to live in sustainable and resilient communities. He called for increased climate financing, technology transfer, and capacity building, saying these would give the region a fair chance to develop and progress.
“This year, we mark the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. We urge our partners to recommit to climate action and lead the way towards net zero emissions,” Duterte said.
“Climate change is not just a matter of survival. It is equally a matter of justice,” he added.
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