Gradual reopening of Asean borders pushed

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte is batting for the gradual reopening of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) borders to trade and tourism as rising vaccination levels give their governments more confidence in easing restrictions.

“It is also time that we open our borders safely to reinvigorate our trade and tourism sectors,” Duterte said in a speech during the 16th East Asia Summit (EAS) held via video conference on Oct. 27.

He emphasized the need to revitalize economic exchanges within the region through deeper integration.

“Let us then work swiftly towards the early entry into force of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP),” he said, vowing that the Philippines will do its part and ratify the landmark agreement within the year.

RCEP is the trade pact among the 10 member states of Asean and the bloc’s five FTA partners – Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, and South Korea.

The deal was concluded on Nov. 15, 2020.

Duterte said there is a need to move together in unity and partnership to ensure the continued peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.

He welcomed partnerships that offer decisive responses “to address challenges to public health systems, our economies, and the well-being of peoples.”

Duterte also thanked external partners for their contribution to the Covid-19 Asean Response Fund, and for their pledges of support for the Asean Center for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases.

“Let me recognize as well our partners who supported the COVAX facility—the alliance for life,” he said.

He said the Philippines’ 1 million US dollars contribution is a “modest way of helping ensure that the nations with the least means will likewise have access to lifesaving vaccines.”

All members have the “common task” of accelerating holistic recovery for all nations, he added.

Peace and stability

Meanwhile, Duterte cited the need to enhance engagement in priority areas including under the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, noting that one vital area is maritime security.

“As I have said time and again, the South China Sea must remain a sea of peace, security, stability, and prosperity,” he said.

All stakeholders, he added, must adhere to freedom of navigation and overflight, exercise self-restraint and protect the marine environment as stipulated in United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“We must resolve disputes peacefully in accordance with international law, particularly UNCLOS and the 2016 Arbitral Award. We thank our EAS partners that finally expressed support for the Award and have urged stakeholders to abide by the decision,” he added.

Global warming

Citing how the Philippines had to bear the brunt of the horrendous effects of climate change, Duterte also called on urgent and serious climate action.

“It is within the means and power of many of our EAS partners to avert an impending collective disaster,” he said, noting that UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will convene in Glasgow on Oct. 31.

Like many in the developing world, he said the Philippines deserved a fighting chance at progress.

“Our window for effective climate action is fast closing. Those most responsible for the problem—past and present—must commit to our common goal of net zero emissions or we are all doomed,” he added. (PNA)