President Rodrigo Duterte joins other leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and South Korea, China and Japan during the special Asean Plus Three Summit on Covid-19, via video conference at the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang on April 14, 2020. ACE MORANDANTE/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTOS


Southeast Asian leaders backed efforts by the World Health Organization (WHO) against the Covid-19 pandemic, amid growing criticism of the global health body’s pro-China stances.

The leaders also supported the proposed Covid-19 Response Fund, among a host of other cooperation measures, in a special summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) via videoconference on Tuesday.

“We recognized the important role of the WHO and committed to working closely with the WHO, relevant organizations and the international community towards enhancing our collective pandemic preparedness and response,” Asean leaders said in a declaration.

Leaders called for “coherent, multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder and whole-of-Asean Community approach in ensuring Asean’s timely and effective response to the pandemic.”

They also ordered economic officials to ensure the continued flow of trade, particularly in medicine, food and essential supplies, as well as reallocate funds for cooperation measures including the Covid-19 Asean Response Fund.

“We were deeply saddened by the loss of life and the suffering caused by the pandemic. We also commended our medical professionals, healthcare workers and other frontline personnel,” Asean leaders said.

President Rodrigo Duterte, in remarks from Malacañang, stressed the need to ensure food security and called for the utilization of emergency rice reserves.

“Imposing unnecessary trade restrictions on staple foods, such as rice, and other basic commodities will be harmful to everyone,” he said during a separate Asean meeting with dialogue partners China, Japan and South Korea.

He also urged the Asean+3 countries to think of a post-pandemic recovery plan.

Duterte said the Philippines was bracing for a significant decline in economic output and planned to soften the blow by subsidizing 18 million families.

“But this will not be enough. We need to rebuild our economies and stimulate growth domestically, regionally, and globally,” the president said.

“We cannot know yet the full impact of this pandemic. But what is fast becoming obvious is that the world will not and cannot be the same after this crisis,” he added.

The summit was led by Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the Vietnamese prime minister. (Felipe F. Salvosa II,