Duterte bats for unified COVID-19 recovery framework, stronger climate change response in ASEAN summit

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President Rodrigo Duterte addresses the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on November 12, 2020

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 12) — President Rodrigo Duterte urged his fellow leaders in Southeast Asia to coordinate COVID-19 recovery efforts, the provision of vaccines, and stronger action versus climate change as the Philippines is being ravaged by Typhoon Ulysses.

Duterte attended the virtual summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Thursday morning, joining the proceedings through a video conference hosted by Vietnam. This was the President's first public appearance since Luzon was battered by a new typhoon that has dumped heavy rainfall since Wednesday evening. 

"There is a great damage and I may not be around to attend further in this regard for I have to go around and see what I can do for my people," Duterte said during his remarks, after which he excused himself from the conference.

"This calamity is yet another stark reminder of the urgency of collective action to combat the effects of climate change," he added.

Typhoon Ulysses (international name: Vamco) is the fourth to rattle the country in two weeks. This time, the hardest hit areas were Marikina City in Metro Manila and towns in Rizal, based on initial estimates of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

Thousands of families were forced to evacuate as raging floods submerged homes, leaving some to take shelter on rooftops as they wait to be rescued. Dams have spilled while water and electricity supply have been cut off in some areas.

READ: Fighting climate change and strong disasters: Why a simple lifestyle switch can make a difference

"We must therefore further enhance our cooperation on disaster risk reduction management to reinforce our capacities, both at the national and regional levels," the President said.

"More importantly, we must amplify our voices to demand climate justice from those most responsible for this existential challenge we face today," he added. "Developed countries must lead in deep and drastic cuts in carbon emissions. They must act now, or it would be too late –– or if I may say addedly, it is too late."

READ: PH leaning towards declaration of climate emergency – DENR chief

Countries worldwide in 2015 signed the Paris Agreement, a landmark deal to combat climate change. Signatories have committed to pursue efforts to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

Last week, United States President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the accord formally came into force, a major blow with America being the world's largest economy. However, President-elect Joe Biden –– who will run the White House by late January –– has said that he will bring the US back to the climate deal.

"This is their moral responsibility from which there should be no escape. Otherwise, it would be great injustice –– a double blow to those who bear the brunt of the adverse consequences of their past actions and present inactions," Duterte added.

The Philippines is among countries most vulnerable to climate change, with high risk for typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions which could cost lives and damage properties if disaster mitigation protocols are absent or lacking.

COVID-19 recovery

Another major disaster which ASEAN member-states should work closely on is the COVID-19 pandemic, Duterte said, as he batted for a unified recovery plan for the region.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is the defining challenge of our generation... We aim for a comprehensive recovery to build back better, healthier, and more prosperous societies," the President said.

"Our immediate priority is health security," he added. "We have to strengthen our health systems by ensuring the unimpeded supply of medical supplies and technologies, and by enhancing early warning systems for health emergencies."

The Philippines as of Wednesday has the second-highest number of coronavirus infections in Southeast Asia at 401,416, next to Indonesia's 448,118 cases. More than 7,700 have died due to the disease.

Duterte called for the rollout 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. He also lobbied for group effort to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines, all of which are still under clinical trials.

RCEP approval

He also backed the looming approval of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, and pushed for efforts to retool and accommodate displaced migrant workers across the region.

The Philippines will head the ASEAN Technical and Vocational Education and Training Council, which seeks to provide trainings for reskilling of workers to find new jobs under the "new normal."

Duterte left the proceedings, which are scheduled to last until Sunday, saying he needed to attend to typhoon relief efforts at home. Malacañang, the Presidential residence in Manila, was also not spared from flooding as the Pasig River overflowed, his spokesman Harry Roque said.