The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) must recalibrate its plans and undergo “fundamental and systematic changes” to survive the Covid-19 pandemic, President Rodrigo Duterte said.

“For all its uniqueness, this pandemic is unlikely to be a one-off event. We must, therefore, strengthen our region’s capacity to address future infectious disease outbreaks,” Duterte said during the 36th Asean Summit held virtually Friday.

Duterte called on his fellow Asean leaders to promote research and capacity-building on health technology development, and enable the Asean Center for Biodiversity to contribute in combatting wildlife trafficking to prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases.

He also stressed the need for greater cooperation and intraregional connectivity within Asean nations to thrive under the “new normal” brought about by the Covid-19 crisis.

“The Covid-19 pandemic continues to cause disruptions worldwide with far-reaching consequences. To survive, we need to make fundamental and systemic changes. And only a cohesive and responsive Asean can help us all safely navigate out of this perfect storm of a crisis,” Duterte said.

However, the president said “not all is bleak,” as lockdowns have led to decreased energy consumption and reduced pollution.

“This pandemic has taught us that we must choose to be nature’s stewards, not its abusers,” he said.

Duterte added that reliance on technology, which led to the adoption of e-commerce, e-learning, videoconferencing and artificial intelligence, could be used to improve Asean’s cross-border e-commerce and expand business opportunities in the region.

Adopting such internet-based methods would minimize harm to the environment, Duterte said.

During the summit, Asean leaders adopted 12 outcome documents, including the Asean Leaders’ Vision Statement on “Cohesive and Responsive Asean,” Asean Declaration on Human Resource Development for the Changing World of Work, Work Plan of the Asean Plan of Action to Prevent and Counter the Rise of Radicalization and Violent Extremism 2019 to 2025, and the Terms of Reference of the ASEAN Technical and Vocational Training Council.

The Philippines has the third highest number of Covid-19 cases among Asean countries, with 34,073 confirmed infections as of June 26. John Ezekiel J. Hirro